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Leading with empathy in a hybrid workplace

The pandemic has changed how organisations are led and what employees expect from their leaders. With the newly developed support in areas like childcare and mental health, and the blurred lines between personal and work lives, the relationship between leaders and employees is more supportive and emotional than ever. In the changing workplace leadership support is expected not only to focus on employee experience, but also work life balance.

According to a recent Gartner survey of nearly 5000 global employees assessing the evolving role of management, only 47 percent of leaders stated that they are prepared for this future role. The survey also illustrated that 85 percent of HR leaders agreed that it’s more important now for managers to demonstrate empathy than it was before the pandemic. Further Gartner analysis shows that leaders who display high levels of empathy have three times the impact on their employees’ performance compared to those who display low levels of empathy. In addition, employees at organisations with high levels of empathy-based leadership are more than twice as likely to agree that their work environment is inclusive.

The critical leadership skill

Empathic leaders have the ability to contextualise performance and behaviours. They understand the relevant facts and proactively ask questions and seek information to put themselves in their employees’ shoes. However, empathy requires high levels of trust and care, as well as an organisation-wide culture of acceptance. Particularly in smaller organisations where leaders need to be both managers and doers, leadership development requires to awaken the leaders’ mindsets to lead in new ways and create a capacity within the organisation to enable the change.

Motivation to be empathic increases when a support system exists and when organisations invest in roles designed to support leaders. One important part of the solution is to help leaders prioritise their workload to focus on fewer, higher-impact relationships with individual employees and teams.

Empathy in leadership is an added benefit to a workplace, and it’s an essential skill that the best leaders are able to turn into successful business strategies. To lead with empathy, leaders can start by approaching problems and challenges from a place of curiosity. Shifting their mindsets and replacing frustration with the eagerness to learn and problem-solve, can enable leaders to turn problems into opportunities.

Reaching full potential

Empathy is not only about helping employees, but also about improving business performance. In addition to creating a welcoming workplace environment, leaders have the responsibility to put systems in place that allow their employees to reach their full potential. The ability to understand and relate to employees enables leaders to connect with them, as well as putting them in the best position to succeed. Showing empathy can help leaders to more easily identify employees’ true strengths and areas of trust; it can even enable them to better understand which projects are leading to employees feeling overworked. This in turn can prevent performance issues and burnout.

Leaders are already overburdened by the new requirements of the evolving work environment, and actions that drive empathy are time consuming. With a small team size, leaders are able to dedicate time to foster deeper connections and respond with empathy, however, moving to a hybrid work environment creates more complexity.

At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills through to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at


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