Learning & Development, Recruiting

Empathy from Leaders Lifts Company Performance and Helps During Layoffs

Whenever there are mass layoffs, organizational PR teams scramble to find a spin on the announcements. HR professionals fumble the exit planning. Leaders butcher the communication.

It is bound to happen. What I wish we would do more of is think about how organizational culture can lead to improved performance and perhaps help us avoid layoffs altogether.

Take the Empathy Walk

I have worked in some places where leadership simply didn’t listen to the people closest to the work. They rarely engage in empathy walks designed to understand how the business operates and to improve the internal and external customer experience.

Empathy and listening to employees can certainly help improve organizational performance. Empathetic leaders are better able to understand and respond to the needs and concerns of employees, which can lead to increased job satisfaction and motivation. Additionally, leaders who actively listen to employees are more likely to gain valuable insights and feedback, which can help them make more informed decisions and improve the overall performance of the organization.

While it is important to note that empathy and active listening alone may not be sufficient to improve organizational performance, I wonder what poor decisions could be avoided if we did add a little more empathy. What new product or service offerings could we develop?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to avoiding layoffs, but empathetic leadership cannot be overlooked as an innovation strategy. Empathetic leaders are better able to understand and anticipate the needs and wants of customers, which can help them identify new opportunities for products or services.

Additionally, empathetic leaders create the types of work environments that foster creativity and experimentation among employees. Furthermore, empathetic leaders are more likely to create an open-communication culture where employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas, suggestions, and concerns. This can lead to a more diverse range of perspectives and ideas, which can drive innovation.

Trying a little empathy could possibly help us avoid mass layoffs, but if we find ourselves in the middle of mass layoffs, there are some best practices to follow.

Exercising Empathy During Mass Layoffs

The most common mistake I observe during mass layoffs is a failure to communicate openly. Executive-level leaders will withhold information while trying to craft their plan. Taking this approach has some benefits, but the consequence is that you are removing people’s options to make informed decisions about their lives. That is not an empathetic approach, and the proof can be found in the fact that we would not want this to happen to us.

Here are some ways to show up in more empathetic ways during mass layoffs:

  1. As you make decisions, use actual photos of your employees instead of talking about them as numbers, departments, and other data points. This helps build empathy in the decision-making process.
  2. Communicate openly and honestly about the reasons for the layoffs and the steps being taken to mitigate the impact on affected employees.
  3. Be transparent about the timeline for the layoffs, and provide as much notice as possible.
  4. Offer support services, such as career counseling and outplacement assistance, to help affected employees transition to new employment.
  5. Provide severance pay and other benefits to impacted employees, as appropriate.
  6. Show empathy and understanding toward affected employees, and acknowledge the impact the layoffs will have on them and their families.
  7. Be respectful and professional in all interactions with affected employees, and avoid being dismissive or callous.
  8. Show appreciation for the contributions of affected employees, and maintain open lines of communication to keep them informed of developments.
  9. Review and reassess the decision if possible after a certain period.

Take these courageous steps, and you will find that people will be disappointed they have lost their jobs but will appreciate the humanity of the process.

Dr. Nicole Price (www.drnicoleprice.com) is the Forbes Books author of the upcoming book Spark The Heart: Engineering Empathy In Your Organization. She also is the CEO of Lively Paradox, a professional coaching business that focuses on practicing empathy in leadership. Originally trained as an engineer, Price’s technical background enhances her objective approach to solving process problems and helping people focus on solutions.

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