Thursday, July 18, 2024

Why Empathy is a Must for Leaders in the Post-pandemic Workplace

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The pandemic brought about a paradigm shift in the way organisations operate. The lines between our professional and personal lives blurred. Work became global and the competition intense. When the pandemic led to thousands being unemployed, many were happy to just have a job. Before the pandemic, working from the office was the norm. Working from home was something one did under extreme circumstances.

All this has now changed. Hybrid work is the popular choice as organisations in the world are reimagining work in the new normal. A survey found that 82 per cent of people would rather work from home than go back to the office. This is just one of the many new employee expectations that have surfaced. The sea-change in values and a fundamental rethink of one’s relationship with work have brought outnew concernsfor leaders. As employees begin to challenge the traditional value of the workspace, it is up to business leaders to ensure they can actively engage and retain their most valuable employees.

Riding the wave of the new times
We live in fast-paced times and continue witnessing technologicalchanges.Leaders must be ready to take on any challenges that may come and make sure to keep a cool head. A “one-plan-fits-all” approach will not work. An agile mindset where you think and act fast is essential.

Leaders who stick to the traditional top-down approach will be unsuccessful. They need to laydown guidelines and strategies,so that those familiar with the situations have the freedom to make decisions. By empowering others to act, they reduce response time and ensure that team members can take the necessary calls, thereby promoting rapid problem solving and execution under high-stress, chaotic conditions.

Some leaders may be wary of letting go of control or sharing they are unfamiliar with something. I believe in being honest with your teams and leaving it to experts tomanage a situation as it will keep the teams motivated.

Calling for a new leadership style
We are also witnessing a mindset change. Employees no longer remain in the same organisation for years. The asks of today’s young workforce are in complete contrast with those of their predecessors. The latter had fewer options and were driven by family and financial responsibilities. The current generation has a larger risk-taking appetite that gives them more room to explore and experiment.

With all these changes in workforce expectations, does it mean that leadership today is completely different from what it was earlier? The answer is “No”. The fundamentals of leadership remain the same.However, our leadership style will need to evolve to the needs of the current environment. In the new normal, an organisation’s leadership style can make or break the enterprise. We need to create a purpose-driven culture where employees are engaged and motivated to givetheir best.

Organisations require leaders with a sharp vision, who communicate in an inspiring way and can be a positive influence.They must be committed to instilling the right culture and meeting the larger goals.Most important,theymust be able to connect with all sections of the people across levels and geographies.

Daniel Goleman, who coined the term Emotional Intelligence, said that effective leaders are those with a high degree of emotional intelligence, which includesself-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, humility and social skills. While these are not qualities we usually associate with business, Goleman found a direct correlation between EQ and business results. Currently, we are seeing the employee value proposition shift from “work for me” to “work with me.” As a result, a leader should look at increasing work flexibility, productivity, well-being, employee satisfaction and engagement. It will be crucial in empowering your best employees and ensuring business continuity in the post-pandemic world.

Focusing on purpose
Millenials and Gen Zs focus is always on “What are we working towards?” Manyare rethinking their careers and their work. Millennials and Gen Zs are also interested in working for companies that advocate for change and focus on purpose. McKinsey reports that 70 per cent of employees are now demanding purposeful work.

What we are witnessing is just the first phase of how the way we work is changing. We can’t even imagine what lies ahead but know what will make us successful – the ability to pivot, seize new opportunities, care for our people and be the leaders those around need and can trust.

Ashwini Moni, Senior People Business Partner at Progress

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