March 15, 2022

5 ways to lead with compassion in the Year of the Empowered Employee

by Sarah Sheehan, President & Co-Founder, Bravely

In the last year, the tides of workplace power have shifted for employees, who can now advocate for themselves and their needs.

Organizations everywhere are experiencing a new phenomenon of potential employees arriving at the interview process with a list of questions about what the organization can offer and how their culture will support them and their needs. This change might feel abrupt to many HR leaders and can even feel off-putting, leaving HR Leaders and managers feeling defensive and baffled by this new bold stance employees are taking.

But, if we can pause to soften and get intentional about the kind of people we want to fold into our culture, these are the kinds of people we actually want: they value culture and will likely become culture carriers. An empowered employee experience has never been more valuable than today amid this Great Reengagement. 

Pandemic fatigue

Everyone is suffering after the past two years. There has been an unbelievable amount of loss on the collective scale, and we’re all experiencing compassion fatigue. At the beginning of the pandemic, employees everywhere called for more empathy and understanding from their leaders, who generally responded with grace and compassion for the “unprecedented circumstances” that befell us. But, what we thought would be a few weeks of extended deadlines and heart-to-heart conversations has been multiplied out over two years. Managers are some of the most burnt-out employees in the workforce.  

And yet, compassion must be baked into workplace culture to build meaningful connections and increase employee engagement, which keeps employees sticking around during times of uncertainty or massive change. 

77% of employees report that they want to work at an organization where they feel connected to the purpose and the people.

Blueboard, “The State of Workplace Connection 2022”

In its “State of Workplace Connection 2022” report, Blueboard explores data that reflects the need for connectedness in the workplace. But in a world of remote work and elevated burnout, leaders find it hard to create a sense of belonging within their organizations. 

Equitable access and individualized support 

The pandemic has impacted everyone differently. For me, I was a new and first-time parent when the pandemic hit, and it left me without childcare for the first 15 months of my daughter’s life. It was an incredibly challenging time for me and many of my colleagues who were single and feeling isolated, taking care of elderly parents, or juggling homeschooling their school-aged kids. My needs were different, but not more important. The silver lining of the pandemic is that it has shown us that every employee has a different set of life circumstances and needs that impact how they show up at work. What are the resources at your company that work for everyone but also support individualized needs? 

Coaching has historically been reserved for people at the top — until now. Bravely offers coaching for employees at every level. Ask yourself how your organization is supporting employee wellbeing, like mental health resources and professional development, and consider the ways that providing one-to-one coaching could offer individualized support to your employees. Coaching isn’t a one-stop-fix for creating more supportive cultures and engaging employee experiences.

To the functional leader, here are the five things you can do to enhance the employee experience: 

  1. Insist employees take time off to unplug completely and ensure that leaders pave the way for employees to follow suit by taking time off themselves.
  2. Take one thing off their plate. When an employee discloses a challenge they’re going through, like a loss in the family or a prolonged stretch of caregiving, do something. This action can be as simple as sending them a gift card to order food. 
  3. Check in with them every day. Set a reminder if you have to.
  4. Find coverage for their workload so that when they return to the job, they’re not overwhelmed and don’t feel punished for taking time off. 
  5. Empower managers to support their people without feeling like they have to hunt down permission. 

As we reconstruct the employee experience, we must build an ecosystem of offerings that resonates for all. To ensure that everyone’s needs are met, there must be a diverse group of offerings that speak to different employee circumstances and needs. Between remote work and extremely high rates of burnout, turnover, and fatigue, we’re naturally struggling to keep our employees engaged and connected to a higher mission. By continuing to show up with compassion, vulnerability, empathy, and understanding and baking these values into our company culture, we can continue to shift the future of work into a more human-centric, sustainable extension of the lives we want to live. When leaders bring a sense of compassion and understanding, they empower their people by clearing pathways to meaningful connection and true belonging. 

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