How Managers and Team Leaders Can Practice Empathy During A Crisis

(Last Updated On: February 26, 2021)

This is a difficult time for people as well as businesses. On one hand, the distress experienced by individuals as a result of the lockdown and the pandemic is affecting businesses and the economy. 

On the other hand, the economic slowdown is forcing businesses to take measures that are affecting people’s lives. This is a cycle that we are just starting to see the impact of. 

The unpredictability of the situation, the anxiety around the health of our loved ones, the change in routines that had become a part of our lives are just some of the things that can affect our mental health. Given the timing of the lockdown, there’s also a possibility that most of us were preparing to receive increments based on our appraisals. 

A word to managers and team leads: It makes sense to worry about the productivity of our teams working from home and feel anxious about whether the team can remain afloat in these times. 

Truth be told, this uncertainty has put managers and team leads to the test, one which they might not have been too prepared for. No one was. 

What can managers and leaders do to help their team during a crisis?

How can you practice empathy with your team and also take care of yourself?  Here are a few tips: 

Show vulnerability 

As leaders, we may feel the need to show that we have got it together. Who would take you seriously if you were not a person who could solve every problem? Showing vulnerability helps you relate to your co-workers and your teammates’ could appreciate the opportunity to help you once in a while. 

Be empathetic 

Empathy can go a long way. Understanding the difficulties your team members might be facing can make them feel cared for. If someone is struggling, do not break out the threats, instead, have a conversation with them and ask if they need any help. 

Empathy 101 – Put your people first

Remember that your team and you are not working from home due to a pandemic but you are working from home while struggling with a pandemic. It’s natural to not be just as productive as you were while you are in the office together. People need to see you as someone who cares.

Connect as more than employees or coworkers

Zoom parties or games are cool but don’t let it be the only time you connect with your team outside of work. In an office setting, you would be talking at lunch, or running into each other in the bathroom or if you are like my team, reminding each other to drink water or stretch every hour. All of this might be difficult to do now but find ways to connect with your team. 

Make mental health services accessible

Supporting your team on your own is great. But sometimes we all need help. Make mental health services accessible to everyone in your team. The Alternative Story has been providing webinars, 1-1 counselling services, and leadership support to multiple organisations and we would love to extend our services to your team, as well. 

Reach out for help, yourself

Remember you cannot pour from an empty cup. If you want to help your team, replenish yourself. Seek help, do things you like, and be compassionate to yourself. 

Having a tough conversation: 

It may not be an easy decision to make but many of you may have to lay off your team or give your team pay cuts. Communicating this is an incredibly difficult job. Some things to remember while you share this news to your team are: 

Be clear in your communication – What are the chances that the person can expect? What are the timelines that they are expected to take effect? Give as much information as you can. 

Be honest – Don’t offer hope when there isn’t any. My father always used to say, let’s see when he wanted to say no. It doesn’t do anything for the person. Being honest can help people move on and look for options immediately. 

Give time to process the information – If you can, offer time. Ideally, you want them to process the information as calmly as they can and ask questions if they have any. 

Offer support through recommendations, introduce them to others in the industry – Letters of recommendation can be a great way to introduce great team members that you have had to let go to friends in a similar industry. Make it standard practice to offer your help to those you are laying off. 

Grieving is a process. People can have a wide range of emotions to being fired. Some may be angry, some may try to guilt you, bargain with you. All of these are natural emotions. Offering a safe space to feel these emotions may help your organization and you. 

You are doing your best!

Remember it is a global pandemic which means that everyone is affected by it in some way or the other. Feeling untethered, experiencing existential dread or feelings of anxiety and depression are normal. Seek out support. The only antidote (kryptonite, if you will) to isolation is being connected – and having a little empathy. 

If you are looking for more insight into mental health and empathy at the workplace, we went LIVE with Rashi from The Alternative Story. Check it out here.

This post was contributed by Rashi Vidyasagar from The Alternative Story. Rashi is the director of communication and strategy of The Alternative story. She has a degree in criminology and criminal justice administration. She lives in Bangalore with her spouse, dog, depression and anxiety.


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