Updated: Feb 3
Empathy, compassion, approachability and transparency are more than just this year’s workplace buzzwords! The onslaught of the pandemic has more or less levelled the playing field for organizations across the globe. Be it through budget cuts, forced redundancies and other cost-saving measures, companies have scrambled hard and fast to keep their heads above water. And at a time like this, the one virtue that stands out is empathy. But when most managers and leaders are scared of coming across as “weak” when displaying empathy, what can do done? Will simple training workshops be enough?
A combination of long working hours, Zoom fatigue, juggling household responsibilities and taking care of one’s own well-being has taken a severe toll on the way that people are currently functioning. In the early days of the pandemic, citizens of every country had turned towards their leaders for a sense of security and support. The very same principle applied to workplaces. Employees found themselves waiting in anticipation for fresh communication from their leaders and managers, updates on where the business was headed and what the future held for each one of them.
This is where empathetic leadership steps in to take the reins and adapt to the ever-changing economic landscape. In many ways, the pandemic opened doors (albeit virtually) for employers and employees to start having honest conversations about how they’re coping, what’s working well and what needs to change.
While the well-being conversation at Indian workplaces might be a few years (if not months) old, let’s get something straight –
Leaders Cannot Cultivate Empathy Overnight
Workplace culture is a huge indicator of how well adjusted, engaged and happy your employees are. If managers and leaders were never empathetic and accommodating to begin with, there is no secret formula that will help change their behaviour within a short span of time. When it comes to empathy, a top-down approach is fundamental to creating an environment that is built on trust. A compassionate leader is tuned to pay close attention to what their people need, sometimes even before they can vocalize their thoughts. Empathetic leadership calls for bravery in the truest sense of the term. It takes courage to abandon old ways of thinking and lead without having the faintest idea of what lies ahead.
For example, giving your employees the autonomy to choose if they feel comfortable (or not) to return to office is a step in the right direction. Employees are putting their best foot forward at work every day, despite the fear, anxiety and uncertainty that the pandemic has brought with it. Burnout has a massive impact on everything from well-being and engagement to productivity and even employee retention.
And if you look at the numbers, they tell the same story. The Workforce Institute at UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group) and Workplace Intelligence conducted a survey of 3,900 employees and business leaders across 11 nations. Not surprisingly, they found that burnout and fatigue are EQUALLY concerning for employees working remotely and those in a physical workspace.
What’s Next? Training Workshops
The best that leaders and managers can do is to cultivate empathy, lead with compassion and communicate honestly with their teams about the state of affairs. Training workshops that focus on these aspects can go a long way in helping those in positions of power. Moreover, it helps break the misconception of being empathetic is a sign of weakness!
Arranging frequent training workshops that focus on well-being, physical health and managing stress for example, are great ways to ease the burden, at least a little. Setting clear boundaries and virtual work guidelines through consistent email communication draws attention to the importance of having a work-life balance (yes, despite being stuck at home).
As an organization, be it the CEO or the newest intern, this year has been packed with all sorts of learnings and experiences. Roles at work are evolving. Which is precisely why we need to cultivate empathy for each other, empathy for those infected by the virus and empathy for the innumerable unprecedented situations that organizations find themselves in on a daily basis.