A post-pandemic rebuild based on empathy

Every single one of us has had our professional and personal lives impacted in one way or another during the pandemic, and as we start to edge closer to some kind of return to normality, it’s crucial that business leaders don’t lose sight of the skills they should have developed and honed during that period.

The impact of the pandemic on our way of working has been widespread, with the relationship between work and well-being becoming significantly intertwined. Leaders have had to be hyper- vigilant about the state of their people and how relationships are managed, and those who already had solid, trusting, and positive relationships with their people will have overcome this challenge in good shape.

Empathy has always been a critical skill for leaders but living through the pandemic has commanded a whole new level of meaning and priority.

The reason empathy has been so necessary for leaders is that people are experiencing multiple sources of stress, not limited to the fact that people’s lives and work environment have been turned upside down, but as we emerge from tough times; struggle with burnout; or find it challenging to find motivation; empathy can be a powerful antidote for leaders. Even if you are late to the party.

During the height of the pandemic, top-down leadership became outdated, and, more importantly, counterproductive. If there is this notion that people can now work from anywhere, as leaders, we need to ask the question, how many of our managers are really prepared for output-based management?

Traditionally, leaders have been very focused on being present 9 to 5, and a ‘command and control’ type of management, but you can’t do that so easily remotely. A different management style is now needed.

Leaders need to develop and/or extend the ability to trust that their team is performing their tasks diligently, meeting deadlines and enable the business and its people to move outcome-based measures. This is likely to be very different from what most managers were used to in pre-pandemic work environments where they could physically see their team throughout the day and monitor their activity in real time.

I think we recognise that a post- pandemic world presents an opportunity for positive shifts in our work and private lives that were seemingly impossible before the COVID-19 crisis. For instance, many employers and employees have discovered that new ways of working (such as working from home) facilitate more flexibility, autonomy, productivity, and is in some cases, is more satisfying than working in an office. Not to mention the ability to save time previously spent commuting to and from work.

In contrast, we have to acknowledge that disadvantages include social isolation, lack of employee collaboration, change to the quality of working time, and a decline in many of the human elements that work brings to our lives.

More than ever, it will be important for businesses to recognise the risks of workplace burnout. People are fatigued and leaders need to allow their teams time to breathe for a while. People will want a bit of space to understand their new normal. Galvanising the troops and driving them quickly towards your next company objective may not be the best thing at this time.

Having the ability to look over the horizon will be imperative, but take the time to sense check all aspects of your business, most of all, your people. Don’t forget, it’s your people who have carried you through this.

Great leaders who understood their business and their people prior to and during the pandemic, who took appropriate action at the appropriate time, will not have a problem with mass resignations. If you have always treated your people well and recognised their value, they will stay with you. If you didn’t, then you could be in a world of trouble, and your people will be actively looking to move to an organisation that recognises the value of their people.

The leaders that are likely to come out ahead of the game as we transition out of the pandemic are the ones able to continue to work through ambiguity, accept vulnerability, communicate virtually, and give trust to their team.

This article was written by FastTrack UK Board Advisor Tricia Phillips, for the latest edition of FastTrack’s In the Fast Lane newsletter. Read the entire newsletter here.

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