Leading with Empathy, Kindness and Compassion in Uncertain Times

By Stephanie DeViteri

April 16, 2020

April 16, 2020 – We are living through a global pandemic. We are sheltering in place. We are wearing masks and staying at least six feet apart when we aren’t sheltered in place. This is our shared reality right now. But how we’re living through this time, and how each of us is processing it on an emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual level, varies from person to person and from employee to employee. If you’re a leader of people, understanding this point is critical. Bottom lines and profit are important, but our employees are more important. If we fail them, especially during a time of such global uncertainty and anxiety, we will have failed our clients and customers.

Years ago, I came across a leadership quote from Sir Richard Branson, which earned a spot on a beloved Post-it note that I keep in my office (and now, my home office) because it spoke to me in the simplest and most profound way: “Take care of your employees and they will take care of your business. It’s as simple as that.” Now more than ever, we need to show up when our employees need us most and in a way that extends empathy, kindness and compassion. At Evoke KYNE, we work hard every day to do right by our employees and put them first with each decision we make. In the midst of COVID-19, our people-first focus hasn’t changed. Here are a few tips on how to help support employees on their unique journeys as they navigate a new normal.

Be vulnerable so employees feel safe to do the same. Brene Brown and other leadership experts often talk about the power of vulnerability to connect people, especially in the workplace. Embracing opportunities to be vulnerable with your team – asking for feedback and ideas, talking about your personal interests and family, or admitting you don’t have all the answers – reassures your teams that they can have real and honest conversations with you. Showing vulnerability from the top down fosters connection, collaboration and trust, and at a time when we’re all connecting virtually, it is more important than ever.

Make yourself available and open to listen. My current manager leads by example on this one, and I benefit from it on a daily basis! So, needless to say, I make it a point to check in with my direct reports and their direct reports as much as possible to see how they are doing on a professional and personal level. Some days, they take the shape of a quick check-in by Slack, and other days they are 30-minute 1:1 phone calls or a one-hour Zoom happy hour. The best thing a leader can offer is time. Second to that, a simple “I get it” or “I’m sorry you’re going through this” goes a long way in making employees feel valued and heard.

Be flexible. Being flexible is a bit different than offering flexibility (but both are important). To be a flexible leader is to recognize each employee has different needs and working styles, and then to accommodate for it as best you can. In our current world of virtual working, this might mean joining a client call you wouldn’t normally join so that your account lead can take a much-needed day off without dialing in. It could be allowing an employee to log on earlier or later to account for childcare/homeschooling needs. How you define being flexible is based on what your employees need, which may evolve from week to week during this time.

Encourage taking breaks, model taking breaks, repeat. Some of us are naturally wired to always be on the run. With less opportunities to go-go-go outside of our house, we’re resorting to our home working spaces for most of the day. We have fewer natural breaks in the day where we transition from home to work and vice versa. It’s important to stretch, walk outside if you can safely do so and just generally disconnect your brain from the Outlook/Zoom/Slack/Teams/Skype abyss. We offer resources and reminders to employees that encourage taking breaks, and our management team will also share updates (and sometimes pictures) of when we aren’t glued to our devices, to help inspire others to do the same.

Show appreciation and say thank you, often. Another famous quote from Branson for leaders to reflect on and embrace (yes, I’m a quote person)“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” One of the easiest ways to treat someone well is to acknowledge their contributions during a particularly challenging time. Some of our employees are full-time working parents who’ve turned into part-time teachers homeschooling their children; some are living in apartments on their own and haven’t had physical human contact in weeks; some are scheduling FaceTime and food drop-off breaks during their workday to care for friends, parents or grandparents who are by themselves at home or in a long-term care facility; some are leveraging reduced schedules, alternate work hours and time off to care for young children whose daycares are closed indefinitely. So, make time to show your appreciation and say thank you as often as you can, knowing that all of us are doing our best to meet deadlines, be there for our teams and clients, and keep our businesses moving forward while juggling difficult personal circumstances.