Hey leaders, what are the most important skills and abilities you should be honing and strengthening right now? According to new research, they include active listening, caring on a more personal level, being transparent, and helping others. In other words, it’s all about empathy. According to a recent study by Qualtrics, workers are dealing with significant mental health shock in the wake of the pandemic.
“Two out of five (41.6%) of respondents said that their mental health has declined since the COVID-19 outbreak. The number of people who rated the state of their mental health in the lowest range (3 or under on a 10-point scale) has doubled since the outbreak began.”
When respondents were asked what things had the biggest impact on that decline, the top five reasons were:
- More anxiety (24.0%)
- More stress (20.1%)
- Worry about losing their job (14.2%)
- Being less busy (8.6%)
- Challenges of working from home (8.5%)
What Exactly is Empathy?
When discussing the traits of self-aware leaders, I’ve stressed how important empathy is – it’s part of having emotional intelligence. When you approach challenges, team building and goals from a place of empathy, it helps create positive team dynamics and aids in everything from addressing day-to-day challenges to holding difficult conversations. In addition, when leaders are empathic and make people their top priority, organizations experience big benefits.
It’s common to confuse empathy with sympathy, and they’re often considered interchangeable. According to Brené Brown, “Empathy is a skill that can bring people together and make people feel included, while sympathy creates an uneven power dynamic and can lead to more isolation and disconnection. It’s an unfortunate outcome given that sympathy is usually coming from a good place.”
Here’s an easy way to look at the difference between the two:
- Sympathy is saying, “I feel sorry for you.”
- Empathy is saying, “I feel what you feel.”
How to Lead with Empathy
The Qualtrics study emphasizes how company leaders’ empathic actions can have a positive impact on employee wellbeing, and mitigate some of the negative effects of COVID-19 outbreak on workers. But here’s the catch – you must be willing to listen and then act. Here are some of most important steps corporate leaders can take, according to the study:
1. Genuinely care about the health and well-being of every individual on your team. That includes making sure they feel supported, and continuously check in and know how each person is feeling.
2. Building cohesive teams. When the study asked participants who could help them the most if they had a discussion about their mental health, coworkers rose to the top. The positive effects of team building cannot be overstated.
3. Transparency and clear communication helps employees deal with their mental health issues. This includes setting clear expectations, and taking action to support and address the needs of each individual.
4. Set expectations. When asked what actions from their company or colleagues have been helpful for improving their mental health, the top responses were:
- Communication from my company leadership
- Having access to the resources I need to do my job effectively
- Clear expectations for my work from my manager
Developing leadership skills is an ongoing process. Corporate cultures shift, workplaces transform, and businesses must constantly respond to industry changes and trends. Leaders must do the same. Whether you need to up your empathy game, or are interested in more effective ways to build cohesive teams, Vida Aventura Leadership Development Programs can help you get there.
Feature photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash