One-in-three workers would leave their companies for a more compassionate environment: How to be an empathic leader

Lauren Crystal

Hassl co-founder Lauren Crystal. Source: supplied.

Six years ago, I had a manager who made me work through an illness, all because they were unable to stop and be empathetic to my situation. It led to a prolonged illness on a personal level and weeks of work missed, which was a productivity nightmare.

Making the right managerial and executive decisions is challenging enough during good times, but even harder during a global pandemic.

Amid today’s ever-changing chaos, teams deserve an empathetic leader who deeply understands what each of their employees is going through.

Empathy is directly connected to people, and sometimes, as business leaders, we can become so focused on deliverables and keeping our own priorities in check that we unintentionally ignore how our workers are coping.

According to research, not enough leaders demonstrate this ‘soft skill’, even though a significant 92% of workers would be more likely to stay in their job if their bosses would show greater empathy.

The same research found the state of empathy being displayed in the workplace has considerably stalled this year.

The study discovered that leaders in 2020 were not doing enough to demonstrate empathy, with only 68% of employees saying their organisation were ‘somewhat’ empathetic — representing the lowest rate of the past four years.

These numbers especially are cause for concern if we consider that studies show the expression of empathy has far-reaching effects in an individual’s personal and professional life.

It’s increasingly recognised as a fundamental leadership tool in today’s global market, valuably benefiting leadership effectiveness.

Through the global pandemic, many businesses were forced to work remotely, which meant teams faced a new set of challenges.

Struggling with exhaustive workloads and longer working hours, not being able to interact with team members in person, and, of course, juggling work demands while caring for children or older family members, workers experienced a new level of burnout and stress.

During lockdown, many Australians completed an extra four to five hours on average of work for free every week, according to the latest report from the Centre for Future Work.

That’s almost an hour of unpaid work every day. It adds up to 2.4 billion hours per year.

In addition to this, issues such as isolation, financial worries and health concerns continue to burden Australian workers, with calls to Lifeline hitting an all-time high (a 57-year record) in September.

As leaders and managers, we have a responsibility to take proactive measures to help avoid stress overload and potential burnout in our teams. Although that support cannot always be given in person, there are a wide range of resources available for employers to provide support to those who need it most.

Consider organising regular check-ins and one-on-one meetings to discuss current work situations and how the business can better support employees, as well as incorporating wellness and mindful practices in the team’s everyday routines. These tactics will help your team to build resilience and feel better supported by management.

Today, I lead with empathy not only because it’s inherent to my nature, but also because I believe it’s important to take the time to understand the needs of each team member.

I do this because I know they’ll be happier, more creative and ultimately produce better business outcomes if they can operate in an environment that works for them.

Being an empathetic leader isn’t hard.

It’s all about being more understanding of the struggles of your team, and simply asking them what they need to better perform their role.

Create a safe space that allows for open conversations about mental health, especially as businesses transition back to the office.

Even in a ‘flexible forever’ remote working situation, it’s important that leaders discuss what this will mean for their team.

Given one-in-three workers say they would leave their companies for a more compassionate environment, it’s now more important than ever to take the time to understand your team’s concerns and listen to their ideas, to create a better working environment that motivates and fulfils them.


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