Learning & Development

Empathy Unleashed: The Secret Weapon for 2024’s Workplace Renaissance  

In 2023, the job market experienced a swift downturn characterized by a wave of widespread layoffs. Not only did more than 100,000 tech workers lose employment, but so did hundreds of thousands of workers in other industries. By the end of the year, the loss was tremendous. Although eight million jobs were added, around 900,000 people remained out of the workforce.  

Layoffs were only a part of the labor difficulty puzzle, though. Hiring freezes became common, too, and they’re on track to continue throughout 2024 at more than half of businesses surveyed by Resume Builder.  

This massive upheaval in the job market has culminated in a profound sense of fear among workers. Fear is both real and contagious. It spreads quickly throughout industries, organizations, and communities, hurting productivity, engagement, positivity, and profitability. Fortunately, fear born of corporate decisions has an antidote: kindness. It’s simply up to leaders to enact it. 

The Tangible Advantages and Impacts of Kindness  

When using the word “kindness” in a corporate sense, it’s essential to define it. Being kind doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t let people go or make hard choices. It also doesn’t mean that you have to hold back on feedback or constructive recommendations. Instead, exhibiting kindness as a leader means demonstrating that you care about your people.   

Take honesty, for instance. When honesty is present — even during rough patches — workplace stress tends to decrease. People aren’t carrying heavy emotional burdens related to “What if?” questions or a disconnect between them and their managers. They may still feel some stress, but they know they’re being treated as valuable adults.  

Demonstrating that you care about your employees by striving to see things from their perspectives and act accordingly helps you develop real relationships with your peers and direct reports. It can also lead to more intuitive empathy. Rather than being someone who just “talks the talk,” you become the leader who actually “walks the walk.” And that’s the secret recipe for fighting fear related to corporate changes like layoffs.  

At one point, I collaborated with a company facing severe financial difficulties. In response, they appointed a new CEO, who was expected to do some cost-cutting. However, this CEO adopted a novel strategy, opting to discuss as a group ways to keep a solid team and rebuild with little to no job cuts. The result of being honest was that people began to get innovative, take responsibility, and share ideas. The collective journey to an honest solution ultimately forged a stronger, more unified company culture. 

Could the CEO have just fired some folks and trimmed the budget? Or said to other C-suite executives, “We’ll deal with the business needs after we make the layoffs.” Of course, but it would have led to missed opportunities, decreased morale organization-wide, and even the likelihood of reduced productivity. 

Remember that layoffs don’t end when people leave, either. A phenomenon called “survivor’s guilt” can permeate a workplace. Those who keep their jobs often feel sad, guilty, and skeptical of the future. Statistically, layoff “survivors” are 7.7% more likely to resign within 105 days of their coworkers’ involuntary termination than if the same coworker had left voluntarily. Fortunately, being showered with kindness in the form of honesty and genuine concern allows those who remain to recover. Without kindness, they’re more inclined to believe that the longer they stay, the more at risk they might be, causing them to leave out of self-preservation. 

Practical Methods of Practicing Corporate Kindness  

You don’t have to be racing toward layoffs to get the benefits of being known as an employer that practices corporate kindness. Even if 2024 still looks uncertain, you can enjoy a healthier, happier, and more stable workforce if you put some kindness-fostering measures in place. Here’s where to start: 

1. Get to know your people.  

Do you think you know your people? Think again. Chances are strong that you don’t know them nearly as well as you could. For example, do you know each of their motivators? What causes them to experience setbacks? What their short-term and long-term goals are?  

When you understand your team, you can easily see things from their perspectives. As such, take the time to talk with everyone you come in contact with. Engage in one-on-one conversations and learn what makes your employees truly enjoy their work. This small act of authentic kindness is a simple, quick, and powerful way to guide your future communications and business growth. You may have heard the saying, “Everyone has a story.” These stories shape who we are, and we’re that much more connected when we know those stories. 

2. Fold your corporate values into your operations.  

Corporate values (including kindness) can sound nice but fall short if they’re just words on a wall. In best-case scenarios, corporate values should set the standards and intentions for every employee at every level in your company. However, that can’t happen until your operations and values are aligned.  

Take a hard look at the values you say you care about. What are you doing to make those values come to life? What are you doing that conflicts with or contradicts those values? What does it look like when people are living with them? Values can be excellent guideposts only once they’re demonstrated and reinforced as part of your policies, employee handbook, and culture.  

3. Design your benefits to be honestly beneficial.  

Too often, benefits such as unlimited PTO are nothing more than a corporate gesture if it’s perceived you can only take a certain amount of time off. When leaders don’t take unlimited PTO and judge those who do, the benefit becomes more than meaningless. In all truth, it becomes a source of unrest and distrust.  

Show your people that you care for them by offering benefits that count — and then support using those benefits. This practice can look like anything from flexibility in scheduling to the ability to take time for vet visits. You might even want to explore occasional four-day work weeks or half-day Fridays. People enjoy having the freedom to be the responsible professionals they are.  

In the wake of 2023’s tumultuous job market — and as we march into whatever the future holds — the lesson for corporate leadership is clear: Kindness can transform your people from skeptical to successful.  

As you prepare to navigate future business challenges, embedding kindness into corporate operations is essential for fostering a positive and productive workplace. Moving forward, it’s imperative to prioritize empathy as both a virtue and a vital component of your business strategy for enduring stability. 

Gloria St. Martin-Lowry is the president of HPWP Group, a company that promotes leadership and organizational development through positivity, coaching, and problem-solving. HPWP is driven to create high-performing workplaces by partnering with courageous leaders who value the contributions of team members. 

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