Chief Empathy Officers (CEO’s) Required

As the world slowly begins to emerge from lockdown, now more than ever there is a real need for leaders to show up as the Chief Empathy Officer in their business.  Effective communication is essential if leaders are to help their team members re-integrate into the workplace. And effective communication can only occur when there is empathy and compassion.

As leaders, we need to recognize that everyone will have different emotions about returning to the workplace.  Whilst some employees will be motivated about returning to be with colleagues, others on your team may be harboring fears for their safety, and those of their loved ones, particularly if they are in a high-risk category. How leaders respond to these diverse responses will be essential in determining how the business prospers in the longer term.

Team members need to be kept informed about what is happening in the workplace and I’d suggest that you consider re-onboarding every returning employee.  Due to social distancing things will be very different in the workplace. People may well be sitting at different desks, there will be different protocols for entering and leaving the building, using the staff canteen etc.  Without clear communication team members will become confused and anxious about what is happening, and this could lead to stress and disharmony.

Consider what one local employer did for his team members to alleviate these concerns.  He shot a video taking team members on a virtual tour of their new office layout and clearly explaining the new procedures in place.  This way all the team members had clarity on what was expected on their first day back and this also brought goodwill for the leader.

As a leader, it is also important to recognize and acknowledge what has happened over the last four months. Simply putting your head down and assuming that everything will go back to “normal” will just alienate your team.  Provide space and time for team members to have open, compassionate conversations about how they experienced the lockdown and what they have lost as a consequence.  Some team members may have lost relatives and loved ones to the coronavirus. For others, their whole way of life might have been put into upheaval with homeschooling, layoffs, and the fear of redundancy.  Being unable to see family can have taken a huge emotional toll on some of them.

Leaders need to appreciate that team members have all experienced varying degrees of trauma, grief, loss, and anxiety, and by providing the psychological safety for team members to process these emotions, they can help build resilience in their people.  And whilst some may feel that devoting time to this important aspect is wasteful, the research is compelling that companies that seek to address these emotional issues can rebound stronger, as team members feel listened to and so they become more engaged.  Caution, however, as simply going through this process without the pre-requisite authenticity, empathy, and true compassion can, in fact, make things worse.

This is also a great time for leaders to help team members reconnect and embrace a new sense of purpose for the business.  Rather than the executive team shutting themselves away and doing this all alone, engage the team in helping you shape the new purpose of the business. This will then help the team take more ownership of the solutions whilst also making them feel that they are making a real contribution.  And indeed, on a personal level, reconnecting to purpose has been shown to be a critical factor in helping people cope with crisis and trauma.

From a business perspective, there is also compelling research that companies that put purpose and people at the heart of the business have more engaged team members and outperform competitors on equity returns.  Plus consumers and team members are also attracted to work for and purchase from companies that have an ethical purpose and recognize the need to balance their impact on their people and the planet with their need for profit.

So how you display empathy and your level of emotional intelligence over the upcoming months will, in my view, play a great part in how your business navigates the change, and whether it merely survives or thrives.

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