How empathy in leadership is the answer to the Great Resignation
By Paul Chapman, executive vice president at technology consultancy Endava
The lines between our working lives and home lives have never been more blurred. Ever since the pandemic hit and changed the way we worked overnight, the phrase “don’t bring your work home with you” has become something of an impossibility. While this new way of working has brought with it the potential for a better work/life balance, it’s also brought us closer to our work than ever before, and forced us to look at things through a different lens.
It’s caused employees to really think about what’s important to them — about what they want from life and what they want from their employer. Jobs aren’t just jobs anymore. People want to be associated with companies that hold the same values as them, and be fulfilled at work in ways that go way beyond a pay cheque at the end of the month.
This soul searching has culminated in what we know now as The Great Resignation, with many leaving their jobs in search of more — more balance, more opportunities, more job satisfaction — and it continues to be a huge problem for companies everywhere.
But these issues aren’t new. Emotional wellbeing and mental health at work have been hot topics for a number of years now. The need to provide growth, support and opportunity to enable employees to flourish isn’t exactly revolutionary. However, the pandemic has put these things under the microscope and switched them from “nice to have” to “non-negotiable”.
Having leaders that recognise, understand and act on this shift will make all the difference between keeping talent and losing it. To remain ahead, leaders need to adapt their practices and focus on a more human way of leading, with empathy at their core. Those that do will reap the benefits of real, positive change throughout the business.
Such empathy is all the more important in the changing face of the workplace. With remote or hybrid working looking set to stay for the long term, the additional pressures of a more virtual workspace are important to acknowledge too.
From tech fatigue to emotional isolation, the shift in culture from face-to-face conversations to Slack and Teams messages has the potential to introduce its own challenges. The importance of leaders who have the emotional intelligence to recognise this, and can empathise with their teams on the pressures — both personal and professional— that the digital acceleration presents cannot be overstated.
By putting themselves in the shoes of their employees, leaders can get a better viewpoint of the challenges facing their teams, but also their goals and aspirations. When you know more about what motivates those around you, as well as what causes friction, you can craft a better, more productive working environment with the right paths to success, not to mention the right tools, to help your workforce feel heard and appreciated.
This in turn buoys employees to feel part of the bigger picture, and champions a challenge culture where they can share their opinion to affect change in the company. It breaks down walls and encourages collaboration, and fosters an open environment that prevents barriers to progress forming.
In the current era of rapid change and digital acceleration, this is key. Having employees that are engaged and on board with the process, rather than at odds with it, helps to clear the way to drive positive change.
Our recent work with Macmillan showed that in action. We engaged with stakeholders from across the business to help shape its three-year digital acceleration process and user experience overhaul.
For Macmillan, it was important for its staff to be a part of the process, and have a say in the brand’s mission and ethos. Such a collaborative approach is always preferable, as not only does it better inform the process for even better results, but it helps employees to feel a part of the change, rather than simply at the receiving end of it.
Filling the gap
Another result of the Great Resignation is a skills gap — a crisis that can only be resolved by people learning and growing, upskilling and diversifying.
Technology teams can sometimes be the most rigid to change here, but there is a dire need for more open mindedness if they’re to survive. When filling roles, considering other values outside of hard skills and experience is imperative, and spending the time searching for the right cultural fit is just as important as the skills on their CV if you want to create a long-term impact.
That means people with non-traditional tech backgrounds — particularly those with sector-specific knowledge —can add real value to a team and should be considered for their potential. Hard skills can be taught, but fresh perspectives, sector knowledge and lived experiences are hugely valuable assets that can’t be overlooked.
At the same time, backing the people already within the business is essential to sustaining a resilient workforce, and any new hires should be carefully considered to avoid diluting the talent already in the business. Traditionally, there has been a tendency to silo people by job description, but leaders who can see the wider talents of its workforce to give opportunities to grow and diversify will not only retain staff but benefit the business too.
That means, when you have a role to fill, hire with care. For leaders to nurture potential, they should champion autonomy and create environments where individuals can collaborate and contribute new ideas freely. The most talented people thrive on being guided, led, and taught, but not micromanaged.
There’s no doubt that we are sitting in a period of disruptive evaluation, and during any periods of disruption, change will inevitably occur. That doesn’t mean it’s a time to panic — it’s a time to listen and learn.
Empathy, humility and emotional intelligence are all under the microscope, and employees are looking to leaders to show these qualities. The answer to riding the Great Resignation wave starts at the top, and how leaders respond will determine whether their business sinks or swims.
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