Why organizational empathy is needed now more than ever

Wednesday May 27th, 2020

Extract: During this period of uneasiness and uncertainty, it’s more important than ever for managers to use empathy in their leadership.


The global pandemic has affected everyone, and every business.

Change is hard for most people, and the world is currently experiencing a great deal of it. Managers must demonstrate empathetic leadership while also managing rapidly evolving work dynamics and maintaining as positive a work environment as possible.

Here are a few specific areas where showing empathy as a leader is of particular importance.

When you have to conduct layoffs

The sad truth about this pandemic is that it has taken a large toll on many businesses. Some will have no choice but to reduce their workforce in order to maintain financial stability.

In a survey conducted by Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., nearly half of respondents said they will likely lay people off over the next three months; 18% have already conducted temporary or permanent layoffs.

Letting people go is one of the hardest parts of being a manager. It’s always important to approach this task with empathy, but in this environment, it’s even more critical. The job landscape is grim - 37% of respondents to the same survey said they’ve instituted a hiring freeze.

To handle this situation empathetically, be sure to give individualized attention and adequate time to each team member you have to let go.

Express gratitude for the contributions they’ve made, and let them know why they’re being laid off, Harvard Business Review recommended. Answer any questions they have immediately and directly. Finally, offer any support you can reasonably provide them.

When people are adjusting to work-from-home arrangements

Nearly all respondents to Challenger, Gray & Christmas’ survey said they’re implementing work-from-home policies in some capacity. Switching to a remote work arrangement can be challenging, especially at a time when so many people are doing so simultaneously.

What this change looks like for each individual will be different. They will have to learn how to balance home life with work life at the same time as they’re figuring out the best work-from-home configuration. Some will also have to take on childcare or homeschooling responsibilities they didn’t anticipate.  

Take the time to check in with each of your team members. Find out if they’re encountering obstacles in their new work environment and offer assistance where you can.

When people are simply feeling overwhelmed

These are unprecedented times. It’s understandable - expected, even - that people will feel stressed and uncomfortable. Even if your employees seem to be managing these changes with ease, it’s important to let them know you’re available to help.

In an article for Business Insider, leadership coach Alain Hunkins recommends that managers ask three questions:

  • How are you feeling?
  • What’s distracting you?
  • How can I support you?

Showing your employees that you care can go a long way in promoting good communication throughout your company during this odd and, frankly, uncomfortable time.