How Leaders Can Show Empathy During Uncertain Times

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Apr 2, 2020
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

Now, more than ever, employees are looking for empathetic leaders. Leaders who are not afraid to be human, show emotion, and provide varying levels of support during these uncertain times. While this may not have been at the forefront of your leadership style in the past, it is something that needs to be a focus now.  In fact, according to a survey by Businessolver, 93% of employees reported that they are more likely to stay with an empathetic employer, and 82% would consider leaving their job for a more empathetic company.

But how can leaders transform their style, especially while working remotely? It all starts with making it a priority, starting a conversation, and a willingness to learn along the way. Here are a few additional ways to become a more empathetic leader during uncertain times.

Provide access to additional resources

Life is very unusual right now, and employees need additional and different support. They might be multi-tasking between their work, homeschooling their children, and caring for an aging parent. This, in of itself, is stressful, but if they don’t have the appropriate resources, it might feel impossible.

If your organization has unused devices, such as laptops, tablets, or printers, share them so your employees’ children can do their schoolwork. Consider subsidizing internet access to increase their speed at home. Provide funding for cell phone bills as they are most likely being converted to work phones. Share information about the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Ask employees what would help them to complete their work and their family commitments during this time. These additional resources can lighten the burden for many of your employees and their families.

Implement flexibility

Flexibility might look different from the individuals on your team. Some may not be able to work a normal 9-5 as they have additional, unexpected responsibilities, which can include homeschooling their children or caring for others. Communicate your expectations to debunk inaccurate assumptions on work hours and projects.

If employees have specific roles and responsibilities that need to be done during certain hours or if there are tasks that can wait, communicate that message clearly. If there are responsibilities that can be shifted around, have a team conversation about it. Share what flexibility means to you and ask employees to share what they need at this time.

Show support

A simple thank you and acknowledgment of work can go a long way. Ask your staff, “how do you like to seek praise” to get a better grasp of how they like to be acknowledged for their work. Answers may vary from an informal email to a shout out at the next large meeting.

By asking this question, you are not only letting your employees know how important their efforts are but in a way that they feel appreciated. You can also consider comping a meal, providing a gift certificate for a grocery store, sending a care package for a family game night, or be creative based on your employee. We cannot just assume that employees know that they’re appreciated. We need to make the extra effort to do so, especially when they may not be getting the daily feedback and communication they’re used to.

Use your network

Now is a great time to stop “reinventing the wheel.” We’re looking to save time, energy, and resources, and creating something from scratch that has already been done is not always the best during uncertain times. If your team is working on something new, ask colleagues in other departments and connections in other organizations if they are willing to share their expertise.  And suggest your employees do the same. Ask people to virtually help one another to use new applications or programs that may be common for them but new to others. Ask your employees what they’re struggling with and see if you or other individuals in your network have the experience and are able to help. This is the time to really pull together.

Stay in the know and stand up for your team

Things are happening rapidly across departments and in organizations. Take notes, ask questions, and be present where you can to make sure you collect as much information as possible for your team. What do you and your employees want to know about, and where is the best place to get accurate information? This is not the time to play whisper down the lane and have your team get inaccurate news from other people. If you’re able to collect firsthand information, do so and then pass it on to your team.

And if during high-level strategy meetings, there are questions about the efficiency and effectiveness of your group, be honest while standing up for them. In a time where employees feel more disconnected than ever, they are looking to their leaders for support, guidance, and assurance.

Provide transparency

Employees across the country in various industries are fearful of losing their jobs, being furloughed and/or taking a large pay cut. While you may not know all the answers or be able to provide comfort in job security, sharing what you know (and don’t know) is helpful. Employees want leaders who have their best interests in mind and who include them in decisions that impact them (and their families). When leaders are not transparent, employees start to make assumptions.

Leading in uncertain times takes a more active communication effort, transparency, and a willingness to admit you don’t have all the answers. This is the time to show appreciation for your employees, acknowledge their contribution, and remove barriers for them to successfully complete their job. If we are not showing empathy and supporting our employees during uncertain times, why should they think we will when things return to “normal?”

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.
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