NOW is the Time for Leaders to Practice Empathy

It is no secret that the COVID-19 has had a dramatically negative effect on working adults globally. In particular, the pandemic has deeply affected our mental health and wellbeing. The numbers are startling and very concerning as we grapple with working in isolation, cramped conditions and significant reduction of socialization. Aside from “essential workers” virtually every single working adult has been forced to drastically change how they work, when they work, who they work with, where they work and how they get their work done. These necessary changes were quick, forced and without much flexibility. 

It has been almost 2 months since our world changed and millions have lost their jobs, organizations are closing and families are dealing with huge challenges. People are experiencing heightened stress and anxiety relating to health, financial and job security. Governments are stepping in to help people and families make ends meet while they do everything possible to flatten the curve, and ultimately, resolve the COVID-19 pandemic. Through all of our daily challenges, we must keep pushing forward. There is no such thing as a “time-out” when it comes to our lives. For those working adults who still have a job, are healthy and are dealing with various pressures associated with work, mental health and wellbeing is top-of-mind. It’s also top-of-mind for leaders across the globe, and it needs to be. 

Fantastic organizations such as Starling Minds have created and offered a free online mental health program to help people manage stress and anxiety due to COVID-19.  A new resource site has come onto the scene, takecare19, which is a mental health resource aggregator. Both are Canadian organizations, built and made in Canada. 

While I’m extremely happy that organizations are thinking more about the mental health and wellbeing of their employees, leaders need to do far more to ensure their employees are staying engaged, productive, connected and feeling safe. I shared a post last week that encouraged leaders to be extremely accessible during this period of time. Leaders cannot afford to NOT be accessible and available to their employees. It’s a mandatory leadership practice, particularly as we all work remotely from home. 

The post sparked some interesting conversation and debate, which leads me to this. Even if leaders are accessible, the manner in which they communicate and work with others is extremely important. Note that our stress and anxiety levels are at an all-time high right now, so many of us are riding the seemingly never-ending emotional roller coaster. While being really accessible, leaders need to really REALLY empathetic. 

I know it’s easy said than done…

I will be the first to admit that practicing something is really difficult. However, I also know that even being aware of something and making a concerted effort to practice something that will yield greater results is an achievement worth celebrating. It’s the first step in the process, and you owe it to yourself and your organization to do it. The idea of empathy and what it means and entails is interesting. At its core, I have learned that the result of being empathetic in a work organization perspective is to build trusting relationships with one another. If you build strong trusting relationships then employees increase their motivation, and sense of belonging and connection to the organization, their work and each other. From personal experience having worked in trusting and untrusting work environments, working in a truly trusting environment is liberating, powerful and absolutely amazing. 

According to Psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman, the concept of empathy is broken down into 3 categories:

  1. Cognitive Empathy
  2. Emotional Empathy
  3. Compassionate Empathy

Understanding and practicing this framework does not happen overnight but here is my “Coles Notes” version of what the categories mean. Cognitive empathy is when you truly understand how someone feels and what they might be thinking. You could describe it as the true art of active listening and comprehension. Emotional empathy takes things one step further to where someone has the ability to share the feelings of another person. You not only understand it (cognitive empathy) but you can communicate it back (e.g. “I can actually feel your pain”). Compassionate empathy takes it another step forward to where someone moves to take action or does something to help. 

As a leader, in general circumstances, but more importantly during times of a global pandemic, being able to demonstrate true empathy WILL result in stronger performance as a collective organization, and individually with each employee. 

One comment

  • Beautifully written Jeff! In these uncertain times, the emphasis on the mental health and well being of employees is paramount.

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