HRE’s Number of the Day: empathy gaps

Junior employees report more skepticism about their employer's COVID-19 response than executives.
By: | June 22, 2020 • 2 min read


16: Percentage points between individual contributors (62%) and executive leaders (78%) who agree that their organization empathizes with their current situation arising from the COVID-19 pandemic

 

Empathy is being predicted to be a key differentiator between companies that will thrive after the pandemic and those that will fall to the disruption—however, not all employees have the same outlook on their organizations’ ability to be empathetic. In fact, according to a new survey, more junior employees are likely to be skeptical of their respective company’s response to the pandemic.

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In a survey of 850 employees by strategy execution and change management firm Kotter, the organization found that executive leaders were 16% more likely than individual contributors to have a positive view of how their organization has empathized with their individual circumstances during the pandemic—78% of individual contributors had a favorable view, compared to 62% of individual contributors; middle managers bridged the two groups at 69%.

Similarly, 82% of executives thought the organization had been transparent about the business impact of the pandemic, compared to just 61% of individual contributors.

See also: The new potentials in workplace culture: humanization, empathy

What it means for HR leaders

To address potential empathy gaps, Nick Petschek, principal at Kotter, suggests employers take three actions.

First, they need to enhance their credibility. “Leaders must ensure they sincerely empathize with the current experiences of their team,” he says. “This is something you can’t fake; people can sense whether communication is genuine and authentic.”

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Read all of HRE‘s coronavirus coverage here.

They should also focus on creating a sense of belonging among the workforce. A foundational message that emphasizes each employee’s worth to the company is key, he says. Even if layoffs are a possibility, employees should understand that the action doesn’t reflect on their value.

Finally, Petschek says, employees will remember the moments—the peaks and valleys are what create the employee perceptions. “Leaders are guiding employees through a moment in time that they will remember forever,” he says. “Will they look back on this period of time as one that renews trust in their organization, or will they look back and see an organization that made a hard time even worse?”

Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.