Team leaders, mid-level managers, and company executives share a unique challenge in 2022: connecting with their employees is more onerous than ever before. Remote and hybrid work arrangements are now ubiquitous in many sectors, often boosting employee morale and enhancing retention but making it more difficult to develop collaborative communities forged from trust and experience.
As a result, leaders are adjusting their skills on the fly, relying on a combination of face-to-face interactions and digital connections to support their teams. For many, the transition has been tenuous. A Harvard Business Review survey found that 40 percent of supervisors “expressed low self-confidence in their ability to manage workers remotely,” and their ineptitude has negative consequences for their teams.
Harvard’s survey found “some managers may be finding their roles more difficult than before — and making their subordinates’ lives more stressful as they struggle to adapt.”
Predictably, a lack of empathy is attributed to lower employee morale and higher turnover. According to Ernst & Young’s 2021 Empathy in Business Survey, 54 percent of employees “left a previous job because their boss wasn’t empathetic to their struggles at work or in their personal lives.” As a result, the survey concludes, “empathy isn’t not only a nice-to-have, but the glue and accelerant for business transformation in the next era of business.”
This is especially true when it comes to conversations about employee productivity. Nearly 40 percent of leaders feel that remote or hybrid employees perform at a lower level when away from the office, Harvard’s survey notes. Of course, many companies implemented some form of enterprise business intelligence + behavioral analytics software during the pandemic, providing a data-driven starting point for growth-oriented conversations about holistic measurement of team productivity and outcome enhancement.
To be successful, managers will need to lead with empathy, connecting with their employees in meaningful ways while engaging them with analytics on their productivity and work processes. This is easier said than done, but it is possible. Here are three ways every leader can act with empathy to nurture stronger, healthier, more productive teams.
#1 Set Clear Standards From Day One
Employees deserve to know what their company and managers expect from them. Opaque employee expectations are frequently identified as a foundational factor in employees’ happiness or unhappiness, and it’s a defining quality of a “bad boss.”
In contrast, Ernst & Young’s survey found that employees consistently described empathetic leaders as “someone who is transparent and fair, and follows through on actions.” Consequently, empathetic leaders will set clear standards for their employees’ work time and productivity from day one and frame it as part of a team or department’s holistics goals as a cohesive unit.
Behavioral analytics and employee monitoring initiatives only heighten this reality. This software collects comprehensive insights into an employees’ online behavior, including app usage, message frequency, and internet traffic. As an enterprise driver of intelligence and analytics company-wise, software aggregates this data, producing highly-actionable metrics, including time spent on work-related tasks, websites, social media, and other apps.
In addition, employee monitoring software can produce minute-to-minute trends and other data points that can facilitate growth-oriented conversations.
Before addressing productivity metrics with your employees, be sure that you’ve set appropriate expectations, including implementing clear privacy and performance evaluation guidelines. Businesses can do so by conducting briefing sessions and educational seminars about employee monitoring practices and anticipated outcomes.
#2 Make Meetings Conversational
The ongoing pandemic has pushed many people to the brink. Millions of workers are trying valiantly to uphold their professional responsibilities even as they deal with the repercussions of trauma, loss, and uncertainty. Meanwhile, others are caring for loved ones, supporting their children’s modified learning schedules, and adapting to new workplace arrangements.
In other words, there is more to an employee’s productivity portrait than just the metrics. In response, empathetic leaders will make meetings conversational, not confrontational.
The Center for Creative Leadership, a leadership development organization, found that managers enact empathy when they practice active listening techniques, including:
- paying attention
- withholding judgment
When presenting employees with productivity metrics, don’t forget to make meetings conversational, recognizing that outcomes are predicated on trust, and trust is developed through empathetic listening. It can also produce incredible business results.
According to a 2021 workplace study, highly engaged employees are three times more likely to say they feel heard, and 74 percent of employees believe they perform their job better when they feel heard.
This practice can also prompt leaders to rethink organizational priorities, operational best practices, and other top-down initiatives, ensuring that employees feel empowered and supported in their work.
#3 Empower Employees to Take Action
Empathetic leaders must remember that they exist to empower their employees. They are helpful, supportive, and teachable, which makes them great coaches and accountability figures. Therefore, whether leaders are setting expectations or actively listening during conversations, they should consider how they can help their employees take action.
Armed with comprehensive data from employee monitoring software, empathetic leaders can help their teams improve time management, identify process gaps, and increase engagement. However, data alone won’t produce better results. Empathy unlocks these outcomes by creating a feedback loop between employees and managers that prompts action.
Ultimately, every company wants to nurture a cadre of highly invested, effective, and committed employees. At the same time, empathetic leaders want to see their employees grow and improve in their professional practices.
Employees don’t feel committed to a company, product, or mission. They are devoted to leaders who are dedicated to them. Empathy is often the missing ingredient to data-driven productivity optimization, making it a critical skill for managers navigating an unfamiliar and frequently fraught professional landscape.
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