Whilst initial lockdowns saw a positive response from managers looking to support their teams, it seems maintaining this level of empathy a full year later is for some leaders proving unsustainable.

Business training course provider The Hub Events surveyed 1115 employees* who WFH to reveal that 53% felt their manager had become less empathetic during the most recent lockdown.

Respondents were also asked:

What have been your employer’s biggest failings when it comes to empathy during the most recent lockdown?

Employer’s biggest failings during most recent lockdown* % of respondents
Expecting the same productivity levels despite continuing crisis 63%
Not noticing signs of burnout with staff WFH 52%
Managers not asking if everything is ok 48%
Not offering enough support to employees WFH 32%
Managers seeming fatigued and uninterested themselves 23%

*Respondents were asked whether or not they felt their manager had become less empathetic in the third lockdown as opposed to the first. Respondents were then asked to choose from a multiple choice list of empathy concerns which were then ranked to reveal the biggest concerns.

Christine Macdonald, founder of The Hub Events offers advice on how managers can support both themselves and their employees during continuing lockdowns and bring empathy back to their workplaces.

“Looking at the results, it’s shocking to see 52% highlight managers not noticing signs of burnout. What’s most worrying here is the suggestion that not only is there a lot of burnout amongst staff at the moment, it’s not being noticed, let alone addressed. This could have huge implications for retention and productivity. It’s therefore vital that managers bring more empathetic practices into their workplaces to counter this.

“Working in a leadership role can be trying at the best of times, and it goes without saying that things are tough for everyone at the minute. Employees are struggling to maintain positivity and productivity with seemingly endless lockdowns, and after a year of living within the pandemic and having to manage entire teams from home, many managers are suffering themselves – it’s telling that 23% of respondents said that their managers seemed fatigued or uninterested themselves.

“Before tackling empathy towards teams, show some to yourself first – if you’re feeling better, you’ll be better at tackling the problems of those around you.”

Adjust Your Expectations

“No one intends to do this, but it can be easy to lose sight of the employees you manage. This goes double when everyone’s working from home, and you end up seeing employees purely as a means to achieve company goals. Remember your employees are people too with a lot on and adjust your expectations. You don’t know what’s going on at home. Employees may be struggling with depression, trying to care for children who aren’t in school, or even dealing with the loss of loved ones. Can you be more lenient on goals and KPIS? Or include other performance factors that put less pressure on teams? A bit of give goes a long way right now.”

Be Aware of Workloads

“One of the biggest concerns during Covid-19 is the lack of control. As an individual, it’s easy to feel powerless at the moment, and easy to feel like things are getting on top of us. This applies to work too. Keep an eye on your employees workloads and check in to make sure they’re not drowning. Use tools like Harvest to track teams. And remember – culture is such that many employees don’t want to appear weak and unable to complete all their work. Lead from above – make it clear to employees that if they have too much on, to come speak to you for solutions.”

Make Sure You Stay Healthy

“It’s easy to neglect your own health with so much going on. But remember to try and eat well, get plenty of sleep, and watch any habits – excessive drinking or poor eating – which can get out of hand during the pandemic. Control what you put into your body – it’s a small and simple change which will make you feel more positive at work. A refreshed manager is a better manager able to tackle more.”

Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Clues

“Pay attention to things like body language, tone of voice, or your employee’s expression. When you give them a task, look at them and listen to them beyond their response. An employee may agree to take on a task but their body language – slumped shoulders, a frown – could suggest that they’re unhappy about it. So follow up – a manager with good empathy levels would ask what was wrong.”

Note Changes in Behaviour

“This can be tough over Zoom, but try and note any changes in your employees behaviour. Do you employees seem like themselves during meetings? Did one employee known for making jokes suddenly stop saying anything? Has one employee stopped talking in the group chat? Does anyone over react to stress in a way they never used to? All of these are signs that your employee is struggling. Put some time aside to have a private chat with them and see what’s up and where you can support.”

Reach Out: Ask Your Employees, Are you OK?

“It sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed how many managers rarely – or never – ask if their employees are ok. It’s understandable – you have a business to run and it can be hard to stop and check in with employees. But just a simple question – are you ok? – can do wonders for making employees feel valued. Don’t wait for PDPs and reviews now to check in with your teams.”