COVID-19 is exacerbating employee burnout and facing the perils of employee burnout is a task that no one wants to undertake. However, when dealt proactively with empathy and compassion, leaders can encourage employees to perform better and help them navigate the COVID-19 pandemic in healthy ways.
In the workplace, empathy goes beyond a simple understanding of each other. It also encompasses our own biases, privilege, and authority. It is also about listening to people around us and understanding both self and others
Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index 2020, surveyed over 6,000 information and first-line workers across eight countries. It found that India had the second-highest percentage of workers facing increased burnout in Asia at 29 per cent. 41 per cent of workers also mentioned that lack of demarcation between work and personal life is negatively impacting their wellness and it is leading to increased stress levels.
Work burnout is a critical issue today, and COVID-19 only exacerbated it. Blurring lines between work and life and worrying about safety and job security have made it even worse.
What is the solution? One of the most important solutions is “Leading with Empathy
“Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.” – Alfred Adler.
Empathy is the ability to understand what others feel. It is about looking at things from others perspectives and seeing yourself in their place. It is all about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and feeling what they are feeling.
In the workplace, empathy goes beyond a simple understanding of each other. It also encompasses our own biases, privilege, and authority. It is also about listening to people around us and understanding both self and others.“Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.” – Alfred Adler. Click To Tweet
Empathy is critical for leadership. According to leadership theories, the display of empathy is an important part of leadership. Empathetic leaders are able to show their followers that they care for their wellbeing and consider them human. Empathy is an integral part of emotional intelligence and researchers have proved that it is critical to becoming an effective leader.
Let’s see what science has to say on management by empathy.
To determine if empathy influences a manager’s job performance, CCL analysed data from 6,731 managers in 38 countries. CCL found that empathy at work positively correlates with job performance. Managers who demonstrate empathy towards their teams are viewed as better performers in their work by their managers.
Google’s Project Aristotle research also found that the most successful groups demonstrate empathy by having team members who are willing to discuss emotions utilizing nonverbal cues.
Also, in most effective groups each group member was allowed equal time to contribute.
A comprehensive study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that empathetic interventions could dramatically increase productivity in a wide range of environments.
Now that we know the importance of empathy, let’s understand how it can be built:
Put yourself in other’s shoes
As managers, we lead diverse teams but many times, we tend to overlook the problems of others as we look at the world from our own eyes. I have seen managers who are unable to consider the requirements of young mothers who need days off without prior notice since their young children may fall sick without any warning.
As the manager has never faced it either by staying in a joint family or it was always their spouse who managed it, they find it difficult to accept this. Or there can be a manager who is unable to look from the perspective of a team member whose family is facing a medical emergency since the manager was lucky enough to never face one. Once you start putting yourself in other’s shoes, you will be able to understand the challenges and pain of others and start leading with empathy.
Are you listening?
When it comes to leading by empathy, the importance of listening can never be overemphasized. Ask yourself, does your team come to you with concerns and issues or they never approach you since they know you will not pay attention? Listening actively takes effort and intention. However, once done well it is one of the best ways to show empathy.
Listen to your team intently and not for the sake of it. It is not only words that are important but their voice and body language are equally important. Try to feel what the other person is trying to convey. While discussing and debating ideas, you may not agree on everything that the other person says, however, acknowledgement is important. Active listening is the first and most important step towards building trust.
Be aware of your unconscious biases
I have witnessed instances where leaders are totally ignorant of their biases and how these biases influence their behaviour. It can be attribution bias, horns effect, halo effect, confirmation bias, gender bias, etc. These may lead to judging people negatively without logic or evidence. For example, assuming someone is not hardworking and rather lazy since they come from a particular region of the country is an example of unconscious bias.
Our biases may even direct us to be empathetic to one person and ignorant to the other. Hence identifying our biases, being mindful of them, and not letting them interfere in our decisions and actions is critical.
Seek feedback and develop trust
Ask your team about your level of empathy and compassion. You can make it anonymous as well. Post your meetings, difficult discussions and debates, you can ask your team to rate yourself. I have personally experienced that feedback from our teams is one of the most effective ways towards self-improvement and it also builds trust, provided you work on their feedback and close the loop. I have immensely benefited from it. It shows our vulnerability and develops trust as well.
Treat others the same way you would like to be treated by them. Be good to people and wear a smile. Do not forget the power of kindness. If you treat people well, it will be reciprocated and you will be able to build a healthy relationship with your team. A very simple yet effective action can be to wish good mornings to your team and ask them how they are doing. Your team will love these small and meaningful gestures.