Caring bosses can ease the pain and worries of their employees
Philip Wu Tze-cheung understands what it's like to live with long-term illnesses like cancer. Diagnosed with a serious kidney condition 10 years ago, he knows only too well that on top of all the personal worries come the extra concerns about work and job security.
'How will my employer react when I have to take leave for medical treatment? What will happen if I can't cope with my work load? Is my job safe?' These were just a few of the questions which might trouble those with cancer, Mr Wu said.
His experience of coping with these problems made him the perfect man to manage the Sun Hung Kai Properties Staff Caring Team - set up thanks to the initiative of company vice-chairman Raymond Kwok Ping-luen in 2004 to provide support in addition to the statutory requirements concerning staff diagnosed with long-term illnesses.
'Most large companies, including Sun Hung Kai Properties, have what in human resources is termed an employee assistance programme,' Mr Wu said. 'But our company is quite unique in that we also have a full-time staff caring team.'
Mr Wu said the role of that team was to ensure that a member of staff and the family had the support they needed to help them cope with the illness.
'We send get well messages, cards, e-mails, flowers or fruit baskets. We will also find information for them regarding cancer, arrange home and hospital visits and mobilise their close colleagues to help,' he said.
'Sometime when you want to help someone they may not want to accept your help because they don't know you. But we can mobilise the staff in their own department - the colleagues who know them well - to take on a caring role. It is more logical that way.
'And we always organise a caring team who they are comfortable with. Obviously, we want to do as much as necessary, but it needs to be acceptable. We don't want to force our help on anyone.'
Sometimes the support required by employees suffering from cancer is of a financial nature, and they perhaps need help with extra medical costs. On other occasions it is more practical, as in the case of one woman employee suffering with a terminal form of cancer who wanted to consult a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner in Guangzhou. The journey would have been quite an ordeal had the caring team not stepped in to help.
'We have a company car which has the necessary paperwork to cross the border, so we used this to take her to Guangzhou and back,' Mr Wu said. 'This is the kind of thing we can do. It is not much, but it can be useful.'
Sometimes, however, they may need a shoulder to cry on or psychological support, which the company provides via a 24-hour telephone helpline or with face-to-face counselling with an independent professional psychologist.
There are also times when the employee is looking for spiritual support, and this is when the company's Christian fellowship can help.
'In the case of the woman who had terminal cancer, we asked the Christian fellowship to introduce her to a friend from the church who had a similar disease so they could pray for each other and strengthen their faith to better face the challenges.'
When the woman was in hospital, the company also arranged a visit by a senior executive who presented her with a gold watch in recognition of her long service. 'She was very ill at the time and not very comfortable. But she was grateful. Sadly she passed away shortly after she received the gift.'
Mr Wu believes that all this shows the caring face of the company where he has worked for 26 years, first as an accountant and then in human resources. 'It demonstrates how the employees are in our bosses' thoughts. It is reassuring to the staff to know that if something goes wrong, someone is there to help.'