Now is The Time For Empathy
Judy Slutsky is Goldbeck Recruiting’s Certified Professional Human Resources consultant.
Heading into 2021, industry leaders all over the world are contending with the changed landscapes in which they must do business. But for the first time in months, perhaps because a COVID-19 vaccine is on the horizon, there is a greater sense of optimism—the economy and our communities are beginning to recover. Now looking forward, business leaders are reimagining their organizational structure, workforce, and consumer bases to best fortify them for the coming years.
Workplaces, and Employees, Have Been Changed Forever
During the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses all over the world have had to reorganize. Consumer bases shrank, operations had to be overhauled, and our economy saw a serious upset. For many businesses, all of these factors contributed to a reduction in income; this is one of the reasons we saw so many layoffs in the spring: with these unprecedented disruptions, businesses were forced to zero in on new efficiencies to stay afloat.
Businesses across all industries had to become more streamlined and more efficient. Part of these strategies involved reimagining operations and product or service offerings, locating new consumer bases, reductions in force, restructuring, and finding ways to encourage and draw out the skills developed by the pandemic. These skills especially concern transferable skills and dynamic soft skills like creativity, collaboration, and engagement with the work.
These skill sets saw businesses through the darkest days of the pandemic. Now that business is increasing again, what will happen to these employees and their new skills? How can people go back to their old jobs, the pace of work they had before COVID-19, or their old way of doing things?
In short? They can’t.
The workplace has been changed forever by COVID-19 and, in keeping with these lasting impacts, leadership is committing to creating (or hiring!) those highly desirable skills in their employees to prioritize dynamic engagement, commitment, and resilience. These skills, leaders have learned, are just what a post COVID-19 world needs.
The Ideal Employee After COVID-19
Necessity is always the mother of innovation; the emphasis we’re seeing placed on these new skills is no exception to this rule. While spontaneous need incited the widespread adoption of creative work from home or operational strategies, companies are now figuring out how to maintain these conditions going forward.
Mary Meany, a Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company, noticed this trend early. “Leaders have seen that their companies have been able to operate at an unimaginable pace and with so much resilience and creativity,” Meany said. “Now they’re asking, ‘How do we hardwire these behaviors into the organization so that we are stronger in the years ahead?’”1
As such, business leaders are now seeking to cultivate specific skills in their current workforce, or prioritizing these skills in new hires. They are looking for lifelong learners who embrace learning new things at work, people with systems and technological skills, people who have excellent communication and interpersonal skills, and people with demonstrated engagement and loyalty to the company, to name a few.
These sweeping shifts in priority are manifesting in all sorts of industries. In my experience, I’ve noticed this shift from retail products and service industries all the way through operational fulfillment centres and construction.
I’m also seeing this change in the industries we’d expect, including marketing and multimedia. In search of these new skills and efficiencies, companies are continuing with reductions in force but, instead of layoffs, I’m seeing more constructive dismissals. Within the confines of the law, companies are re-moulding and re-imagining their workforces. But this can cause problems and create hurt feelings in employees, which can ultimately have a negative impact on the business at large.
Onus is on Leadership to Facilitate Skill Set Shifts
Keeping businesses healthy and employees happy requires strong, empathetic leadership. In a recent article I wrote for Goldbeck Recruiting, I discussed this at length: without adequate empathy, workforces struggling with grief or anxiety over the pandemic or over restructuring, will not perform well.2 In fact, these concerns can have measurably negative outcomes: when employees feel dejected, it’s easy for engagement to take a nosedive, for work to become sloppy, and for employees to withdraw, resisting absolutely necessary collaboration. All of these possibilities spell trouble.
So, as leadership is attempting to hardwire these desirable skills into their workforce for the years ahead, they must bear this in mind: without an empathetic relationship demonstrated throughout corporate restructuring and strategic shifts, the company will suffer.
Luckily, the recipe for keeping employees happy while furthering the business is a simple one. Leadership, in guiding the company into this new landscape, must work with employees to cultivate these skills, leading by collaboration rather than demand. Leadership can do this by encouraging individual employee learning in keeping with personal goals, creating robust employee success programs, and keeping the workforce well informed about what the company needs and its new strategies. Transparency is often the best policy; such honesty ensures everyone—from the C-suite to the new hire—is on the same page and the same team.
More often, I’m seeing companies embrace expenditures on upskilling workers, be it in arenas like Excel or systems management, or the more elusive soft skills like collaboration and resilience. This trend of investing in employees is here to stay and this is one curve it’s best to be ahead of. By embracing this trend, both employees and employers will be better off in the post-pandemic economy, where creativity and commitment is king.