Not everyone is the same
As everyone left their offices to move to their respective homes for the duration of lockdown, some were more concerned than others at the prospect of working from home. For some, it may have been a sense of excitement or relief, but for most, there was concern, or even dread.
In the same way that we need to celebrate differences for the diversity they bring to teams, we must hold tremendous empathy for differences in times of crisis.
Leaders should always keep in mind that people are not the same, nor are their circumstances. Spare a thought for the single parent of young children who has to manage the home, entertain and educate the kids and work. The young intern who still lives at home with ageing parents and maybe even other siblings, aunts and uncles. A full house of people that need to be occupied, fed, and cared for. And also, for the employee who does not have access to reliable and unlimited bandwidth, printers and other critical work resources.
What about the anxious employee who ordinarily struggles to keep it together each day and is now faced with the prospect of the global pandemic. Now, when they need the company of others most, they are isolated and left to their own destructive thought patterns.
Each and every individual has their own issues that need to be dealt with in their own right in addition to coping with the stress of the very sudden onset of the new normal.
As a leader, it is your responsibility to continue with minimal disruption to business as usual, but you too have your own stressors to contend with.
It is critical, at all times, to treat each and every employee as an individual – and even more so in times of crisis. Never before has empathy been more in demand.
Here are a few tips we came up with for leading with empathy in extraordinary times:
- Understand each person who reports to you: Yes – you know their professional abilities well, but what do you know about their home life? Without pushing boundaries or being intrusive, find out what you can about their real ability to perform from home. This will enable you to carry out the rest of the tips that follow.
- Be flexible: If you’re already flexible, be more flexible. For example, some people might find it better to work early hours of the morning, or late at night. If their jobs don’t require too much interaction with others, let them work the hours that suit them.
- Make allowances: When you have an understanding of constraints, you may be able to make certain concessions. Not only will this alleviate stress from the employee, but it should also buy you some added loyalty and help to motivate your employee.
- Grasp opportunities: Every tough situation brings with it some opportunities. There will be loads of opportunities available, you just have to look for them. Ideas include – If you are not good at micro-managing but this is needed during lockdown, appoint a temporary team leader to do the micro-managing for you. You’ll get insights into the team leader’s abilities and may be able to offer this as a full time position in future.
- Allow people to vent: Too often we launch into business without first establishing how people are doing. Allow people an opportunity to chat and to discuss some of their entertaining moments, frustrations or simple day to day observations. This is not a waste of time, but very constructive, especially when we are forced to social distance. We are, after all, social creatures and this should be encouraged.
- Stick to the rules: Just because we’re all working from home doesn’t mean that people won’t require sick leave. Encourage your employees to maintain integrity and open communications. Employees should capture their sick leave just as they have normally done in the past.
This is not a comprehensive list but rather some ideas we wanted to share, in the hope that it helps spark some ideas of your own. Those who wish to share some additional points are encouraged to submit comments below.