It is difficult to count what we have lost during the pandemic. We’ve lost jobs, loved ones, incomes and our social lives. Living and working remotely has also meant we are losing our empathy for colleagues. This is especially true of business leaders and executives who need to be able to understand the problems their employees are grappling with as we leave lockdown.
This loss in our ability to empathize with one another is not new. In 2018, 51 per cent of Brits said they thought it was declining, compared with just 12 per cent who thought it was increasing. The pandemic has supercharged this. We are looking at one another through screens and heavily ensconced in our own worlds, so it is difficult to expand our awareness to people with different experiences.
There is a crucial difference between empathy and sympathy. To sympathize with someone means we feel sad for their misfortune. Empathy, on the other hand, means understanding and sharing the feelings of another.
Throughout the pandemic, most of us have been able to sympathize with those who have lost jobs or family members. We have been able to feel compassion for those living in cramped quarters. But by being physically separated from them, we have not been able to truly understand and empathize with those people.
We have become distanced from our employees and, more widely, our customers – the
majority of who increasingly want to deal with companies and brands that demonstrate their care for people and the planet. As offices start to reopen, it is vital we can act with empathy towards our staff and those we serve. This is crucially important for those at the top of businesses, who have kept their jobs and had a different experience of the pandemic.
In order to understand the customers and people they are serving, business leaders need to be able to understand their staff. There is a huge array of experience just waiting to be tapped into to create a more empathetic work environment. Some communities are more tight-knit than others and have had better support systems throughout lockdown. Younger workers may have been more isolated and need more help and encouragement returning to the office.
Often senior executives have more in common with other senior executives than their customers and other target audiences, such as staff. Therefore, learning how to rebuild lost empathy will mean spending more time with the people you’ve never met. To lead with listening and not opining, to immerse yourself first-hand in the real-world experience of your customers’ lives rather than just reading reports about them.
On a practical level, this might look like asking for written feedback from staff on their experience of lockdown. It could also mean trying to spend time in the office coffee shop. Appearing physically accessible to employees will encourage conversations that can never happen over email.
There is also a place for data, but not as we know it. In today’s big data era, digital interaction between companies and customers means businesses have access to more data than ever before. Sourcing the most valuable data isn’t the only challenge. When there is an over-reliance on endless sheets of numbers it can be difficult to define behaviors. There is a risk of losing a richness of understanding. One-on-one interviews with staff or customers can be more useful than “big data”. It can be costly and time-consuming and, because of this, it often gets left behind.
However, with so much of the same data out there, it is in the small, slow data that the most striking insights can be found – nuanced findings that can make all the difference between people thinking you and your business are empathetic, or not.
Would you consider yourself an empathetic person at work? Are you always willing to lend an ear to your co-worker’s latest band practice drama, or would you prefer to keep conversations at the corporate level?
A recent survey conducted for the 2018 State of Workplace Empathy reported that a whopping 96% of respondents rated empathy as an important quality for companies to demonstrate. Despite this, 92% of employees believe that empathy remains undervalued at their company, which is an increase from results in prior years.
Empathy is described as not just understanding another person’s perspective, but truly putting yourself in their shoes and feeling those emotions alongside that person. It’s a cornerstone of emotional intelligence, and when a workplace demonstrates empathy, there are countless studies that correlate it to increased happiness, productivity, and retention amongst employees.
EMPATHY is now a major skill needed in growing an innovation mindset in an organization as it helps business leaders come up with better solutions, Google LLC’s Chief Innovation Evangelist Frederik G. Pferdt said.
“Empathy is the skill of the future, and practicing empathy every day as a business leader, for example, helps you understand what your employees need and what your immediate team actually needs right now, So, putting yourself into their situation, to really understand how they really think and feel, helps you come up with better solutions for your employees,” Mr. Pferdt said at a virtual forum on Jan. 29.
He noted that innovation is now in great demand due to the pandemic crisis.
“In the past, everyone wanted to innovate. Now, everyone needs to innovate. This pandemic allows everyone to do things differently and has been a key innovation accelerator for companies and individuals who are trying to not only survive the crisis, but finally move forward again,” he said.
Hence, business leaders should help their teams develop an innovation mindset, he said. Aside from practicing empathy, it is important that business leaders are able to reframe challenges into opportunities, Mr. Pferdt noted.
“Reimagine tomorrow, today. How can or should tomorrow be different? What could a better world look like? Mindset matters!” he said. “Small and big experiments lead to learning how the future could work,” he added.
He also said the power of rituals can be used in organizations to build a “sense of belonging and cohesion in times of distance.”“Leaders need to identify values, craft powerful rituals, and foster a future-ready culture that’s prepared for the new normal. After all, you need trust and collaboration to establish a culture of innovation.”
Adobe’s 2021 Digital Trends Report, an annual survey that charts the evolution of marketing, advertising, e-commerce, creative and technology professionals, also identified empathy as the driver of experience.
“Empathy is an under-utilized differentiator that is accessible to all by combining their depth of customer and product knowledge and then demonstrating it at critical stages in the experience,” the report said.
“Understanding how people feel is an essential, but often an overlooked part of the experience. Analyzing and anticipating their reactions at decision points and during moments of friction will make the process work better for both sides,” it explained.
Technology is radically transforming the world of work. But despite AI’s rapid advancements, robots will never be able to do everything humans can. Saadia Zahidi explains how creativity and empathy will be more important in the future, as jobs grow in professions such as caregiving and teaching. But for workers to keep with change, reskilling, upskilling and retraining is essential. Here’s what you need to know about the skills you’ll need to stay ahead.
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Even companies with the best intentions can sometimes take a wrong turn when trying to do right by their employees. Damaging habits and behaviors can inadvertently get absorbed into company culture; and when this happens, it can send the wrong signal about a company’s priorities and values. One of the biggest challenges lies in finding the sweet spot between business needs and employee welfare and happiness. Naturally, you want a high-performing team; but not at the expense of employee well-being and mental health.
Here, we take a closer look at some common workplace conventions—and the ways that they might be inadvertently undermining your mental health objectives.
1. Having a “hustle” culture
It’s great to be productive, but over-emphasizing hard work and profitability can be a slippery slope to toxic productivity. It can lead to individuals attaching their feelings of self-worth to the amount of work they’re doing, and feeling like performance metrics are more important than their mental well-being.
Similarly, celebrating employees who stay late—or even lightly teasing those who start late and leave (or log-off) early (or on time)—can subtly contribute to a culture of overwork and performative busy-ness. Left unchecked, this can result in resentment and burnout among other employees who feel compelled to prove their own commitment to work .
A small fix:
Instead of celebrating regular overtime, try opening up communication about ways to include breaks and downtime throughout the day. You can support this with anecdotes about the healthy mental habits of people in the team (assuming they are open to sharing). For example: “Hey guys, Dave’s found a clever way to schedule regular breaks into his day around meetings!”
Also be sure to address long hours and overwork if you see a rising trend in the company, as it could be an indicator of unachievable work expectations.
2. Sending work emails or messages after hours
It happens to us all: maybe you only received a response on something late in the day, or you had an out-of-hours brainwave.
Sending the occasional evening or weekend message is fine, but doing it regularly implies that after-hours work is expected—which could pressure people into feeling they have to respond immediately.
The same goes for emails sent at the end of a working day with next-day deadlines (or, for example, Monday morning deadlines for work given out on Friday). These practices put a hefty burden on the recipient, which adds to stress and can contribute to burnout.
Now, it gets a bit harder to draw a line when you take into account the increasingly globalized world of work, which necessitates out-of-hours communications due to different time zones. But even in these cases, it helps to be explicit about expectations when sending messages, especially when you know the recipient is either about to log off or has signed off for the day.
A small fix:
If you need to send emails after hours or on weekends, be sure to add a note about how the email can be read or dealt with on the next working day. This takes pressure off the recipient and assures them that they won’t be penalized for not responding on the spot.
If you have a global team, it also helps to establish clear working hours for different countries, and to be clear about the fact that nobody is expected to read or respond to emails out of hours.
Also, no matter where in the world you or your recipient are, be sure to schedule enough time for them to deal with the task during their office hours! And remember—they may have other pre-existing work on their plate that might need to take precedence.
3. Only engaging in “shop-talk”
It’s easy to find things to talk about around the water cooler in the office. But take those organic run-ins out of the equation, and what you’re left with is often work chat and little else.
Working from home has made it harder to bond with colleagues. The natural tendency is to get work done and to only chat about the process, rarely (if ever) about other things.
This removes a big social aspect from work, which can take a significant mental toll on employees and affect their enjoyment of work. This is especially apparent for employees who don’t already have solid work friend groups, either because they’re new or because their friends have since left the company.
A small fix:
There’s so much more to people than just who they are at work. To get some non-work conversations going, design interactions that aren’t work related.
You could set up a monthly ‘coffee roulette’ to group random employees up for a chat. This can help to break the ice a bit and link up individuals who might not otherwise speak during work hours. Or you could arrange sharing sessions where people are encouraged to talk about their challenges and triumphs from life outside the workplace.
Another alternative is to set up interest groups in the company, to help like-minded employees find each other and bond over a shared interest in certain hobbies or things.
4. Only having group chats and check-ins
Big group check-ins and catch-up meetings are important. But group settings can pressure people to put a good spin on things, or cause them to feel like they’re being irrational or weak for struggling when everyone else seems to be doing well.
This could result in problems being missed and getting out of hand, which in turn can take a big toll on mental health and well-being.
A small fix:
Some people may not be willing to speak candidly to a large group, so be sure to set aside time for employees to speak one-to-one to a manager who can address any problems that may arise. It’s also important to make sure everyone understands that they won’t be penalized or looked down on for speaking up about any issues they may be having.
5. Not talking about mental wellness
Perhaps the biggest way your company might be undermining mental health is simply by… not talking about it.
Some managers may not feel equipped to have these conversations, or may not be sure about the etiquette or convention around holding these conversations. But by not broaching these topics at all, employees may feel like they can’t speak out about things they’re struggling with.
The result is a rose-tinted veneer that may be hiding deeper problems under the surface. And studies show there likely are problems. According to the CDC, 1 in 5 employed adults in the U.S. experienced a mental health issue back in the previous year, with 71% of adults reporting at least one symptom of stress. That number has likely shot up now.
A small fix:
Be candid about mental health and encourage people to share their burdens and struggles—especially leaders. You can help by actively promoting good habits like mindfulness and meditation, proper work-life balance, and reaching out for help when necessary.
By being more honest about struggles and mental wellness challenges, managers can reduce the stigma and create a more open culture where people feel able to admit they’re struggling.
As a company, it’s important to be careful about the ripple effects that even small actions—or, in some cases, inaction—may have on employees. The simple fact is that the signals you send may be reinforcing unhealthy habits.
That’s why it’s so important to be aware of deeper currents that run in your organization and to proactively address any harmful behaviors.
By staying aware and making a few small tweaks and behavioral changes, you can hit the reset button when necessary and encourage good habits that protect employee mental wellness.
For more tips on how to build a more inclusive workplace culture that supports your employees’ mental well-being and happiness, check out:
Is Mental Health important in the workplace? Tom explores all things related to workplace mental health, including mental health in school workplaces, in this insightful video. Tom helps employers figure out mental health at work. He reviews workplaces, trains managers and writes plans. Since 2012 he has interviewed more than 130 people, surveyed thousands and worked across the UK with corporations, civil service, charities, the public sector, schools and small business. Tom has worked with national mental health charities Mind and Time to Change and consults widely across the UK. He lives in Norfolk and is mildly obsessed with cricket and camping.
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You need help, but you’re trying to figure out whether it can be on a contract basis or whether you need to payroll someone. This question comes up a lot and it has important implications for working relationships. Do you need an arrangement with a contractor or do you need to hire a regular employee? With millions of freelancers in the U.S. alone, you have your pick of qualified candidates. Take a step back and do some homework to figure out whether you truly need an employee or an independent contractor.
When you have an employee on payroll, you’re in control of what the working relationship and schedule look like. As the employer, you’re most likely paying them on an hourly or salaried basis and taking out taxes. Most employers, of course, are going to offer a benefits package to their workers as well. Contractors, on the other hand, are being paid a flat fee per project or an hourly fee to work with you, but are not receiving W2s or getting benefits in the vast majority of situations. (To learn more about IRS designations and tests used to help you determine whether the working arrangement you have in mind really fits legal definitions, check out this resource page.)
There are a few big benefits of hiring a freelancer:
Only pay for the work you actually need
No benefits payment unless you want to offer it
Can seek out competitive rates in the marketplace and match your budget and desired experience level with a like-minded freelancer
Access to talent all over the world (which you’ll also get if you hire a remote employee)
Here are the things to consider when deciding whether or not to outsource to a freelancer or bring on an employee.
Freelancers, by law, need to maintain autonomy in how they do their work. For this working arrangement, flexibility is the key. For most contractor relationships, the freelancer will be working on their own equipment on their own schedule, meeting deadlines on projects as needed. In general, freelancers will remain available for scheduled calls but are not “on-call” during typical working hours the same way that an employee would be.
If you need someone to be available during your set hours daily, meaning that they’d have to block off their entire day to work when the rest of your team is working, this usually means an employee/employer relationship. And in the U.S., that means payroll, W2, and Social Security/Medicare taxes paid as part of their paycheck.
If you’re open to a more flexible arrangement and truly want to treat this person like an independent contractor — where they control how and when they do their work — a freelancer is the better choice.
Just don’t blur the line. Decide what best suits your needs and keep it that way. If you have to make changes, talk to your worker about the need to change status and whether they are comfortable with that.
Do I have access to the kind of talent that wants an employee position? Many freelancers work remotely by choice and want to have access to more than one client at a time. This means that some of the best talent out there could be among the freelance pool. Leaving jobs is a bigger commitment, but taking on a new client is commonplace for freelancers, so there might be more people you can speak to more quickly about the opportunity if you go the freelance route.
This is not to say there aren’t great people seeking full-time positions out there. Quite the contrary, actually. But being open to freelancers who might be able to do the job more quickly when you only pay them for the work done could stretch your budget better.
Do you have enough work to keep a part-time or full-time employee busy consistently? If not, you’ll end up paying a salary or for hours in which the worker has nothing to do. That doesn’t turn out well for anyone.
Sporadic workload or short-term overload is a strong case for hiring a freelancer, whereas ongoing work — especially when you need someone available to you during specific hours — indicates you may need a permanent employee. Since both parties could potentially work remotely, thus expanding your talent pool, it becomes even more important to think about the structure of the working relationship and the overall workload.
While freelancers can stay with your company for a long time billing hourly or on retainer, plenty of them are happy to work with you for smaller projects or shorter time periods, too.
Have you ever admired a freelancer’s working life? Here’s a difference between the both and maybe you could relate a thing or two! 🙂 REMEMBER TO LIKE SHARE AND SUBSCRIBE 🙂 SUBSCRIBE TO US! https://www.youtube.com/cjworksproduc…
Many organizations have been trying to shift from a model of authoritarian leadership to a model of worker empowerment. As firms are finding out, that transition is not an easy one to make. It requires new behaviors and new ways of thinking for both executives and employees.
The expansion of remote work during the pandemic only exacerbates the problem. Managers are tasked with ensuring flawless execution but are now physically less connected to their teams – and in-person, face-to-face time matters tremendously in relationships.
What is Empowerment?
Oftentimes, empowerment is misunderstood. It can be interpreted to mean that managers and leaders take a hands-off approach, effectively telling employees to sink or swim. That’s more like neglect. Empowerment is an active process. It involves coaching or teaching team members to self-serve, to become adaptive, to make decisions, and to use less of their managers’ time on things that really don’t require their managers’ attention.
Without training or guidance on how to empower, however, managers often simply stop providing direction and let employees figure out issues themselves. The problem: This rarely works. If employees don’t fundamentally believe that they should change and have clarity on what it is they are supposed to change, they can’t. Telling employees to figure it out on their may only slow down the learning and performance process – because employees aren’t necessarily learning.
The “neglect” approach creates a feedback loop that is very difficult to break. Employees who don’t know what to do may ask for help. But when they don’t get a clear, direct answer (like they are used to) they simply resort to past behavior. It’s a proven path that reflects a fear-based response; that is the opposite of empowerment.
Empowering employees means asking good, meaty questions that prompt them to think through the problem. For example, rather than saying: “The sales team needs to boost their numbers,” ask them and their leadership, “How can your team help increase sales by 3% in the next three-to-six months?” In this way, managers and leaders have a very different role: helping to define and shape the problem, so that a team is empowered to develop a solution. The destination is agreed upon, but the path to get there has yet to be paved. (The more tangible and measurable the goal, the more likely it will be achieved.)
Empowerment Presents a Challenge for Managers
Becoming empowered requires a mental shift for many people – leader, manager and employee. According to an ongoing set of surveys by Gallup since 2000, only 30% of employees, on average, are considered “engaged” in their work. As Gallup defines it, “engaged” means ”highly involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.” That number has been increasing in recent years to 35% in 2019, but the pandemic is expected to have a significant impact – and likely not for the better.
Using pre-pandemic numbers, Gallup also found that, over the same 20-year period, an average of 17% of employees are “actively disengaged,” which means they have very negative experiences at work and often spread that unhappiness and negativity to others. While that number has been dropping as well — it fell to 13% in 2019 — it still means that at least 1 in 10 of your employees is pulling down the ship. They don’t want to work, let alone be empowered and have to make decisions.
The remaining 50-60% (52% in 2019) are considered “not engaged.” These employees, according to Gallup’s definition, “are psychologically unattached to their work and company” and “put time, but not energy or passion, into their work. Not engaged employees will usually show up to work and contribute the minimum required.” That doesn’t exactly scream empowerment. They sound more like clock watchers.
Taken together, on average over the past 20 years, 70% of employees (65% in 2019), don’t want to be empowered – they barely want to work. That is a massive motivational challenge.
Engaging The Disengaged
Research has shown that motivational issues fall into one of three categories:
(1) performance, or the ability to master one’s responsibilities,
(2) organizational fit, or whether or not one feels accepted by their colleagues and able to contribute fully, and
(3) self-image, or what gives us a sense of gratification and self-worth.
The two-thirds of employees who are not engaged may be struggling with one or more of these issues.
Take Lisa, an operations processor. For the most part, her role is routine. A work order comes in, then she checks to make sure everything is filled out properly and that she has clear instructions to follow. If so, she performs the routine. If not, she sends it back, noting an error. It’s a straightforward process, much of which likely could be automated. But, because it is somewhat mindless, errors are not infrequent. Many layers of processes have been added to prevent mistakes from the past from happening again, so Lisa really has nothing to be empowered to do – unless her role changes or expands. In effect, Lisa’s managers are signaling to her (and colleagues like her) that she is not worth investing in – even though that is likely not their intent.
Lisa may be bored, feeling unable to live up to her potential through her limited role and exposure. She may not feel like she belongs in the organization or has been accepted by her colleagues, so she tries to make it through the day before going home to family and friends. She could be struggling with her self-image: If the work she does isn’t challenging or important, is she?
Without asking questions of Lisa and trying to understand her motivational issues, managers and leaders are likely to write her off, not recognizing the role they play when they design the work. As executives, we make up our own stories about the people who seem to struggle. They are lazy. They don’t get it. They don’t want to work. We rarely spend the time to help them uncover what they truly are struggling with. What manager is ever given that much time to devote to individual tutoring?
Empowering the two-thirds or so of employees who don’t really want to be empowered means getting to know what motivates them, what makes them tick, and using that to turn them into engaged employees. It’s an excruciatingly tough battle every day in the trenches — until the missing pieces fall into place for that associate. Once they do, you’ve helped that employee become adaptive for life. And your job managing them just became a whole lot easier.
As CEO of Magpie Insights, I help organizations develop strategies that are rooted in the capabilities of their people, improving the likelihood of successful change and execution. The results: higher profits, improved organizational efficiency, and greater employee engagement and retention. As a coach, I help executives become more empathetic managers and improve their adaptability and resilience as leaders. Prior to developing the Magpie approach to empathetic management, I spent nearly 20 years as a management and strategy consultant, entrepreneur, and financial services executive, while studying motivation through the lenses of psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, behavioral economics, leadership and negotiations.
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