Role of Organisational Empathy and Communication During Crisis

Role of Organisational Empathy and Communication During Crisis

Employees are the real assets of any organisation. Every day they put their heart and soul in adding value to the company and take it forward on the path to success. This is why organisations should reciprocate by showing the same level of care and concern towards their employees. Only the right attitude harvests the right results.

The health and well-being of an employee – financial, physical, and emotional, are paramount. Many organisations have already established practices in dealing with employees’ financial stability and physical health, but the emotional wellness of employees often tends to get ignored. Such ignorance can put both the organisation and its employees’ future in jeopardy.

In these trying times of dealing with a pandemic, the need for such concern is even more pronounced. If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us one thing, then it is that organisations should be well-equipped with strategies on how to calm and support the employees when a crisis strikes.

But how can an organisation achieve this? Well, being empathetic is a good place to start.

What is Organisational Empathy?

Empathy is much more than sympathy, which is being able to support others with compassion or sensitivity.

According to psychology professor, Brené Brown, Empathy is communicating that incredible healing message of ‘You’re not alone.’

In simple words, empathy is the ability to step into someone else’s shoes, be aware of their feelings, and understand their needs.

According to researchers, there are mainly three types of empathy –

  • Cognitive empathy or perspective-taking, which is the capacity to consider the world from another person’s point of view.
  • Emotional empathy is the kind of empathy in which one feels the emotions of the person they are interacting with. Emotional empathy makes someone well-attuned to another person’s inner emotional world.
  • Empathic concern is the kind of empathy that encourages people to act and is the motivation behind our efforts to reduce the suffering of another individual.

When it comes to Organisational Empathy, it simply describes the company’s ability to understand the thoughts, feelings, motivations, and conditions of others, especially the employees, and to some extent their customers.

The Importance of Empathy in the Workplace

Over the past few years, talks about the importance of empathy, specifically “empathetic concern” in the business community, are taking centre stage.

In the workplace, empathy means harbouring deep respect for co-workers and communicating that the management cares, as opposed to coldly pointing out the official rules and regulations.

Empathic concern should be important to the point that its presence or absence makes or breaks organisational functions.

Today, the focus of the work culture is shifting towards maintaining a healthy work-life balance. While the ever-evolving communication technology has its boons, it is also making it hard for employees to compartmentalise their work and enter a healthy mental space at the end of the day.

While the ordeal is already real, it gets more conspicuous during a crisis, be it organisational, national, or global. It is because humans emote before they can reason. So, despite their intellectual efforts to respond practically, some may give in to the feelings of fear, grief, isolation, confusion, or even anger.

That is why emotional management of employees with empathy is simultaneously one of the greatest challenges and opportunities for leaders – at all levels – in the middle of any crisis.

Bringing the COVID-19 issue into perspective, it is critical that the management promotes a healthy work-life balance for the employees. The lockdowns have forced many people into working from home, but not all are comfortable with the new normal. Some may not have the proper equipment, and some may simply struggle to ensure a good internet connection. If an employee faces such issues, the management must actively work together with them towards a solution.

For many office-goers, the tiresome journey to the office was a pain, but the emotional support of their co-workers made it worth it. These bonds between co-workers are now in turmoil with the sudden switch to WFH.

Organisations must encourage team building and engaging activities for their employees. This goes a long way in walling off anxiety as well.

How to Communicate with Empathy In Times of Crisis?

In day-to-day business communication, the best communicators exhibit a balance of empathy and authority in their behaviour. Warmth and strength always go hand in hand when it comes to effective organisational communication. But the qualities of empathy and authority are even more vital in the wake of a global crisis.

During a crisis, information is gold. Effective and open communication leads to comfort and educated preparedness, while poor communication can lead to a lack of trust and aggravates panic.

Key components of Organisational EmpathyRole of Organisational Empathy in Times of Crises and Otherwise 2

Here are the key components of organisational empathy and how to effectively communicate them to the employees.

1. Actively Listen

The first step in empathy is listening…and listening patiently at that. Remember, a crisis can scare people, extreme stress can hamper the way one acts.

Cool-headed employees may also lose their calm, and teams can struggle to meet deadlines.

During such times, it is essential to listen to the employees and their reasons. Active listening requires both body language and verbal cues to let employees know that the company cares. Examples of empathetic nonverbals can be head nodding, smiling, and using a warm and relaxed tone. This, of course, becomes a challenge when dealing with remote employees. However, using a warm tone and genuinely listening to them goes a long way.

2. Acknowledge their Fears

Part of active listening is to acknowledge what the employees have to say. Apprehensions and overflowing emotions are common during crises. So, the employer and the management should display empathy through solidarity. Statements such as “it’s okay to feel this way” and “we all are with you in this” can ease the process of them opening up to discussions. It further helps them move toward hope.

3. Disseminate Facts and Knowledge 

Knowledge is power, but only when utilised properly. During a crisis, information can travel fast. But misinformation and rumours can travel even faster. This aggravates confusion and promotes chaos.

Hence, it’s crucial to educate the team about the current situation and also about how to best take care of themselves and others. Provide the team with updated links to reputable sources with accurate and up-to-date information that also includes actionable advice. Seminars and workshops, even if taken online, can help assuage concerns.

For instance, in the COVID-19 situation, management can disseminate the latest updates from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the government directives among the team.

Research shows, the more people are equipped with facts, the better they perform at managing and protecting themselves.

4. Offer Flexibility

A flexible and collaborative attitude from the top brass always helps. Flexibility in management builds mutual trust. Recognising each employee as an individual and acknowledging their personal styles helps them feel free and confident in the workplace. If a certain employee is facing some particular problem – for instance, if they have an ailing family member at the hospital, allow them to choose their own work hours so that they can take care of the patient as well.

In the COVID-19 scenario, for example, even with the lockdowns being lifted, the employees who have certain health conditions or are above 50 years of age, are more vulnerable. Employers should consider allowing them to work from home if their genre of work permits so. If any company doesn’t have the infrastructure for virtual communication, it’s time to change and adapt fast.

5. Support Emotional Health

Emotional support involves making employees feel comfortable about discussing work and nonwork-related challenges with the management. When facing an organisational or a global crisis, the employer should convey they are sensitive to the impacts on the employees’ life and work.

Emotional support techniques at a workplace include:

  • Providing comfort and keeping an eye on the signs of struggle, such as distress, social withdrawal, and poor performance among the employees.
  • Recognising that some employees may have trouble managing work-life balance, and asking them about how they are coping.
  • Encouraging employees to open up about issues that they may be facing.
  • Reiterating to the employees that the management cares and will maintain an open-door policy.

6. Prepare a Pool of Resources

Resources can come in the form of blog articles, capital, or even people – depending on the situation. Preparing a resource pool is about anticipating the needs of the team and arming them with everything that they need to succeed. Past experiences, current situational analysis, and future predictions can be turned to resources.

We have compiled a list of educative resources for employers and employees who are new to working from home.

Having a pool of resources means that the organisation is better prepared to tackle future crises.

7. Try to Build Trust

Establishing and maintaining employee trust and loyalty is critical to an organisation’s success. And it is more so during times of crisis. For the employees to alleviate their fears, they must trust the ones who are supposed to protect them. And to build trust, communicators must successfully manage expectations and communicate openly, honestly, and frequently.

Here are some helpful measures to help you build trust among nervous employees during a crisis:

  • Practice two-way, transparent, and open communication.
  • Empowering employees to let out their emotions.
  • Encouraging them to take care of themselves.
  • Equipping them with tools to do so.
  • Exhibiting integrity.
  • Taking action against troublemakers and rumour mongers.

8. Don’t Panic

Employees look up to their team leaders and management for guidance on what to think and how to act during a crisis. Anxiety is contagious. Panic can quickly undo all the progress made during a crisis. So, it is critical for the leaders to not give in to panic themselves.

9. Lead with Example

As they rightly say, “Practice what you preach.” It is easy for the leader to ask their team to wash their hands, sanitise their workplace, or tell them that it’s okay to work from their homes. But studies show that in a public crisis, it’s not enough to comfort with words; leaders must follow it up with action.

If one wants their team to follow a particular work schedule or some specific hygienic practices, they should do so themselves to set the perfect example.

10. Learn and Grow Together

In the end, whether it is a crisis or a normal scenario, the journey of an organisation involves learning and growing together with its employees. Keeping in mind how the team reacted when faced with a crisis will help strengthen the bonds, be proactive the next time, and come out stronger.

The Importance of Leading with Authority

According to Gene Klann, author of the Crisis Leadership, “During a crisis, your goal is to reduce loss and keep things operating as normal as possible.”

This holds true for every leader fighting a crisis or an emergency situation.

According to studies carried out by the Development Dimensions International (DDI), empathy is the greatest leadership skill that outshines all others. In the midst of such intense uncertainty, as we witnessed with the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders have to be deeply connected to the emotional standing of those around them.

A crisis is also the time when leaders need to demonstrate tremendous authority because only a strong captain can guide the ship through turbulent waters.

The leaders must keep their head steady and become the backbone of the organisation in a true sense. Leaders need to think rationally, act decisively, and mobilise their full cognitive horsepower. It is also the time to reinforce and communicate the values behind the company.

Acting with authority also means soaking up the pressure as much as possible and taking responsibility for the situation. The management cannot be apprehensive about taking significant measures and embracing the necessary changes. Shaking off the vulnerability and focusing on what’s ahead is the only way to successfully surf through even the biggest waves of crisis.

To sum up, effective leadership during a crisis involves maintaining a sense of perspective, communicating openly and honestly, and approaching the situation with logic and empathy.


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