Let’s lead with empathy

I just wanted to take a moment as we move into level 2 this week to reiterate something that I am sure has been spoken about already but is really important nonetheless. 

Managers are under an ever increasing amount of pressure to maintain team wellbeing and productivity during these turbulent times. Many business leaders are having to work their normal role with the added stress of keeping the health and safety of their employees front of mind (both mental and physical) whilst also dealing with a huge amount of workforce insecurity. Furthermore, business policy and strategy is in a state of flux, so the need to adapt fast is paramount. It is key, more than ever, that managers are also aware enough to see when team members need extra psychological support during this time.

But, we all know you can’t be an effective leader if you yourself are struggling too (whether we like to admit it or not). Being selfless is great and admirable in the short term but in the longer term you are not only damaging yourself but you might well damage the wellbeing of the team around you.

There is going to be a new working environment and reality for everyone as we move forward into level 2 and beyond and I think it is extremely important that our leaders lead with empathy rather than a ‘tough love’ stance they might have previously thought suitable. 

Here are a few ideas of how leaders can navigate their teams through this time:

  1. If you start to see signs of productivity falling and/or social withdrawal from a team member, pay attention and don’t just dismiss it. It is also important to note when professional mental health support should be offered (in fact managers would do well to have some resources close to hand that they can offer to employees if it becomes apparent they might need help).
  2. Be an effective role model for your team – keep up today with Covid 19 health and safety policies so you can answer questions effectively. As touched upon before, have up to date resources on hand for different help that might be needed for employees so you can make recommendations when necessary
  3. Recognise that during this time, individuals might have close family members struggling in different ways, so checking in on how their whole family is doing and not just themselves as an individual might help give some insight into stresses they might be facing and again, different avenues of support you might be able to offer
  4. Take note of those without families nearby and those isolating alone. Offer checkins and/or motivate them to reach out to friends and family over virtual communication devices if they are particularly isolated
  5. Don’t be afraid to let the team know you are present and open to hearing about what they are experiencing. Most of the time you or someone close by will have experienced similar emotions or situations during this time and we all know how comforting it can be to know someone else understands how you feel
  6. Set yourself clear boundaries between work and home life and try your best to stick to them. This has been a tricky one for many of us during lockdown but seeing your manager staying true to realistic rules between home and work life can help keep everyone on track and consistency is key. 
  7. Promote the use of sick leave if and when required. Don’t be afraid to advocate for mental health days within your team if they are needed and take one yourself.
  8. A big one that I have always believed in promoting, but even more so right now, is maintaining work life balance. Advocate for prioritising tasks effectively whilst taking into account home responsibilities and be realistic about deadlines. It’s been highlighted recently but it’s something that existed before and often goes overlooked in favour of conventional office hours and expectations that ignore the realities of life. 

Let’s use this opportunity to move forward with the way in which we operate and at all times lead with empathy. It makes so much sense but sometimes we get clouded by expectations we think others have of us as leaders or team members and these tend to be quite dated mindsets. We are all human and we are all feeling this crisis, albeit in different ways. You cannot underestimate how employees will be looking to leaders for guidance and understanding right now so let’s start how we mean to go on.