As more offices go back to normal, companies face a choice: Maintain a compassionate workplace or risk losing employees


In late 2021, Alayna Almén, a resident of the Midwest, faced a devastating loss when her father and stepmother were tragically killed. Almén promptly notified her manager, who initially lightened her workload to provide some support during this difficult time. However, when Almén informed her manager that the funeral service would take a couple of weeks to arrange due to delays in releasing her father's body, the manager reversed the decision and assigned Almén her full workload along with the backlog of tasks. This sudden change created a sense of office dystopia and added to Almén's already mounting grief. Consequently, she made the decision to leave the company a few months later.

Almén's experience highlights the importance of treating employees as more than just "cogs in the wheel" and showcases the need for companies to demonstrate empathy and compassion during times of personal or global tragedy. As the world slowly transitions back to in-person work arrangements amidst ongoing challenges such as the pandemic and conflicts, organizations must prioritize supporting their employees through difficult times. The way companies handle these situations can have a significant impact on both the employees' well-being and the overall success of the organization.

Katharine Manning, a lawyer and empathy consultant, emphasizes that businesses now face a crucial choice. They can either ignore or downplay employees' personal struggles, pretending that nothing has happened, or they can leverage the lessons learned during the pandemic to create a new kind of workplace that prioritizes empathy and resilience. The stakes are high as employee productivity and loyalty are directly linked to how well they feel supported during challenging times. Many workers already feel disengaged and may consider leaving their current positions if they do not feel valued or supported.

Manning suggests that company leaders can start by actively engaging with their employees and acknowledging the difficult circumstances they may be facing. Research shows that high levels of engagement lead to improved retention rates and increased profitability for organizations. By prioritizing their employees' well-being and expressing gratitude for their contributions, organizations create an environment where employees feel valued and supported. The pandemic has served as a crash course in empathy for many companies, as it revealed the widespread distress people were experiencing. Many organizations rose to the occasion and demonstrated empathy during that time.

However, the real test lies in whether companies can sustain this empathy as they strive for a return to pre-pandemic norms and employees may have less bargaining power in the labor market. Managers need to be trained in having open conversations about tough times, and companies should provide accessible mental health resources for their employees. It is essential for leaders to model using these resources, promoting a culture of transparency and equal application of rules to all employees. Unfortunately, not all workers have access to adequate support systems, such as sick days or bereavement leave, which can further compound their challenges.

Companies that refuse to adapt and provide a supportive environment for their employees are likely to face negative consequences, including increased turnover. Today, employees are less willing to work in organizations that disregard their well-being. To build a successful and resilient workplace, companies must prioritize empathy, support, and inclusion, recognizing that a compassionate approach not only benefits employees but contributes to the long-term success of the organization.  

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