How an Increase in Empathetic Leadership May Have Staying Power

What workplace changes will stick once the pandemic subsides? Maria Goldsholl, TechCXO’s Managing Partner – Human Capital, identifies three HR and leadership trends that will have staying power.

This article originally appeared on CirrusMD and their series on top trends in human resources

In a year when Zoom fatigue became a real thing, and millions of bosses and employees personally experienced any number of emotional and psychological challenges due to quarantines, stress and isolation, trends have emerged that may redefine workplace interactions for the better.

No one went untouched in 2020, and when all experience some pain and loss – including the boss — empathy can grow, particularly for leaders. Suddenly, stubborn, long-held biases held by some managers, such as “working remotely is just a way to sleep in and avoid work,” instantly vanish. When a manager is struggling with their own kids being out of school and stuck at home for months, they may be ready to extend more grace to single parents.

The pandemic has been a test of true leadership for many and a new perspective on viewing the whole person. Leaders have asked themselves, “How can we support people through this pandemic?” and “What really matters (and what is just corporate nonsense and busy work)”?

What emerges will be stronger, more holistic leadership with an eye toward prioritizing employee wellness, not just to reduce health insurance premiums, but to care for the whole person.

Here are three positive trends that may take hold.

New Respect for Wellness

It’s not a mistake that in the realm of “Health & Wellness” programs, Wellness is listed second. It may be an even more distant consideration than that. This year changed just how real mental and psychological wellness are for people. Physical health has always had quantifiable costs and benefits attached to it, including productivity, healthcare costs and culture. Now employers can more clearly connect how health and wellness have evolved with how contributors like sleep, exercise, and burnout all play a role in our overall mental health. What was otherwise considered a stigma to discuss has now become a mainstream part of the employee conversation.

Look for employers to offer their employees more through their wellness plans to diagnose things like sleep issues, and to lean more heavily into practical applications such as wearables that can monitor mental health.

Project Management, Prioritization & Efficiency get a boost

Almost all research suggests that people worked more, not less, this past year with the surge in remote working. Early on in the pandemic, frequent one-on-one check-ins were popular. However, as people tired of these tactics (Zoom fatigue) as overkill, they lobbied directly to supervisors to cut out endless forms and tedious meetings. With other things tugging at them, such as caring for children or parents, there was little time to waste on bureaucracy. Drawn out presentations became crisper. Online meetings got shorter and priorities became more pointed. Project management applications got a boost and soul-crushing, email-centric management got jettisoned.

More goals and objectives were turned into sprints with tidy deliverables and success criteria.

Performance Management Overtakes Performance Reviews and Evaluations

We’ve long lobbied for more of a performance management culture versus the overuse of quarterly and annual performance reviews.

Performance management calls for ongoing communication, a focus on clear actions, behaviors and results, and linking work to larger strategic objectives. In the year of more empathetic leadership, many company leaders reported that they are easing up on the dreaded end-of-year performance review. For example, Google skipped mid-year appraisals while the number of promotions doubled.

Shorter, more frequent check-ins actually made supervisors better informed as to how people were progressing. Managers were grateful too as some said getting rid of mid-year reviews saved them 20 hours or more.

We can all hope that leaders retain some of these trends, and that they no longer draw a hard line between a person’s work life and their personal life but rather view them as a whole person.