How 2020 taught businesses to place empathy before profit

(Credit: Unplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Inam ur Rahman, Chief Executive Officer, Dawood Hercules


  • The pandemic has made organizations realize they must better understand employees’ experiences and needs.
  • Emotionally intelligent leaders connect naturally with their workforce.
  • Spaces created for connection with employees can transform into platforms for innovation.

The pandemic defied every management and organizational system, pushing everyone to their limits, until a transition toward agile, ever-evolving methods began to emerge. 2020 was an interesting year, to say the least – many companies emerged with a fresher face, reinventing themselves along the way. Perhaps the most telling realization was that the key to survival in any catastrophe is empathy.

Uncovering the power of empathy

Organizations should take into consideration that the “new normal” has had a dramatic impact, and that adopting a strong, cohesive communications platform to understand the untold stories of their employees can help. At Dawood Hercules Corporation, we were no different and soon realized that, more than ever before, there was a need for comfort, love and support: Employees were anxious, under stress and uncertain about an unforeseeable future. While there was some methodology to managing the physical aspects of the pandemic, no one was really prepared for the emotional impact, which affected almost everyone.

As people are mostly working from home, communication needs to increase, along with the level of engagement and feedback on a daily basis, beyond just COVID-related matters. It is really important to encourage this throughout the organization, so that no one is left behind. Conscious efforts have to be made to increase empathy, especially during the pandemic. When people feel understood, they are more receptive to others’ concerns – and team cohesion and collaboration follows suit. Unconditional empathy in the workplace results in an engaged workforce, and that translates into a stable business, even given the current challenges.

Leading from the heart

Challenging times are when new leaders can be discovered within an organization. These are the ones who connect on a deeper level with others through genuine concern and empathy to create a more lasting bond. Companies should support emotionally intelligent leaders and managers who show care for their team members. Leaders who establish empathy towards their colleagues have better performing and more satisfied team members. Eighty-six per cent of our people feel that their immediate bosses have become more empathetic during COVID, which has had a positive impact on their performance and fostered a happier work environment. Organizations should focus on striving towards establishing a culture where empathy is central and rewarded as something more valuable than mere efficiency.

Value your people

It is important for organizations to establish that people come before profits. Microsoft is paying the 4,500 workers on hourly wages their usual income, despite them having to work fewer hours after permanent staff were told to work from home. Organisations should support its employees like family and strive to be emotionally connected. This creates a new bond of empathy and care, increasing workplace morale as employees recognize that their families are also being looked after.

Back to work?

Processes at the workplace also need a rethink before getting people back in larger numbers. Employee comfort should take precedence over everything. Besides the conventional measures and protocols of going back to work, organizations should look to embrace technology and invest in ensuring their employees’ safety as well. At Dawood Hercules, we deployed a vision and AI-based customized solution, WorkSafe Analytics, at our offices, which has reduced the risk of spread by approximately 40%. This gives comfort to the employees and makes them realize that the organization cares for their well-being. Organizations should focus on creating a culture that meets individual needs, something that again comes back to empathy. Alphabet conducted several “pulse surveys” to understand its employees and has added more granular team meetings and frequent check-ins with staff, which resulted in bringing their productivity back to pre-COVID times.

Innovation with empathy

While organizations are making a conscious effort to embrace change, they should focus on creating some anchors. Well-being and upskilling should become a priority. The platforms created for open communication about COVID impact can also be evolved to idea generation and dialogue opportunities. The safe space where trust and empathy serves the function of creating a coping mechanism can become a platform for innovation. The agility built into the system for smoother operations can lead to something more magical, as it shifts mindsets and leads to lateral thinking.

In order to lead with purpose, it is important to understand the dynamics of this ongoing pandemic and how it affects us all on an individual, as well as organizational level. As best global practices, we should think of people first, and this can only be achieved through genuine empathy, reforming conventional leadership styles and being agile to ensure we have happier employees.

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