During the first lockdowns, many employers took a laudable approach to be more empathetic to their teams. They launched new initiatives, got closer to the team members, and offered support to those who faced difficulties.
A year later, this empathy drive is winding down. In a new survey by U.K.-based business training course provider The Hub Events, 58% of the 1,115 employees surveyed said their managers are becoming less empathetic.
Employers are failing most in expecting their employees to maintain the same productivity levels during the lockdown, noted 63% of respondents. Nearly half (52%) said that their managers are oblivious to burnout signs during WFH, 48% stated that their employers did not even ask if everything was ok.
Other grievances include not offering enough support during WFH (32%), and 23% felt that their managers were tired and uninterested.
“Looking at the results, it’s shocking to see 52% highlight managers not noticing signs of burnout. What’s most worrying here is the suggestion that not only is there a lot of burnout amongst staff at the moment, it’s not being noticed, let alone addressed. This could have huge implications for retention and productivity,” says Christine Macdonald, founder of The Hub Events.
“It’s therefore vital that managers bring more empathetic practices into their workplaces to counter this,” she adds.
She shared five suggestions that apply to all managers.
Like anything in life, unreasonably high expectations can set one up for failure. Besides, lockdown can impact employees in different ways and blur the lines between personal and work lives. So, expecting the same performance can sometimes be unreasonable.
“No one intends to do this, but it can be easy to lose sight of the employees you manage. This goes double when everyone’s working from home, and you end up seeing employees purely as a means to achieve company goals,” says Macdonald.
Employers need to move away from this perception. Employees may be suffering from depression or struggling to balance their home commitments. Some may also be grieving the loss of loved ones.
“Can you be more lenient on goals and KPIs? Or include other performance factors that put less pressure on teams? A bit of give goes a long way right now,” says Macdonald.
Avoid the workload trap
“One of the biggest concerns during COVID-19 is the lack of control. As an individual, it’s easy to feel powerless at the moment and easy to feel like things are getting on top of us,” says Macdonald.
Employers and managers need to monitor employee workloads and check whether they are drowning. Macdonald suggests using tools like Harvest to track teams.
“And remember — culture is such that many employees don’t want to appear weak and unable to complete all their work. Lead from above — make it clear to employees that if they have too much on, to come to speak to you for solutions.”
Managers also need to monitor their health. Macdonald feels that it is easy to forget one’s health with so much going on. So, avoiding harmful habits (like excessive drinking), eating well (but not overeating), and resting well are essential.
“Control what you put into your body -— it’s a small and simple change which will make you feel more positive at work. A refreshed manager is a better manager able to tackle more.”
Monitor behaviors and what’s not being said
Employers and managers need to become adept at reading non-verbal cues. While WFH means there are few visual cues, they need to train to read the body language, voice tones, and expressions virtually or online.
“When you give them a task, look at them and listen to them beyond their response. An employee may agree to take on a task, but their body language — slumped shoulders, a frown — could suggest that they’re unhappy about it. So follow up — a manager with good empathy levels would ask what was wrong.”
At the same time, employers and managers need to look out for changes in employee behaviors. This can offer telltale signs of hidden stress or inability to cope with pressure.
“Did one employee known for making jokes suddenly stop saying anything? Has one employee stopped talking in the group chat? Does anyone overreact to stress in a way they never used to? All of these are signs that your employee is struggling. Put some time aside to have a private chat with them and see what’s up and where you can support,” says Macdonald.
Lastly, Macdonald suggests employers and managers reach out whenever they can.
“It sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed how many managers rarely — or never — ask if their employees are ok.”
She understands that employers have a business to run. Worrying about the employees when the market is facing uncertainty is not easy.
“But just a simple question — are you ok? — can do wonders for making employees feel valued. Don’t wait for PDPs and reviews to check in with your teams.”
Image credit: iStockphoto/kimberrywood