Productivity vs Empathy Post Pandemic - Does it Have to be a Choice?

The fear, uncertainty, and additional responsibilities significantly affect the ability to perform job duties; especially for many no defined beginning, end, or breaks to the workday. Extreme and continuous stress diminishes cognitive function and ability to focus.


The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11th. The first few days of the pandemic being announced and lockdown in place, the disruption was a widely shared experience, a collective uncertainty of what it meant. As days turned to weeks and then months, people locked in a home inundated with anxiety-inducing news and the phrase' the new normal' became a buzz word.

As workplaces closed down their offices and asked employees to work remotely, employees faced with the altering dynamics of daily life; the social and economic implications of banning travel, closing schools and restaurants; juggling remote work and domestic demands. Some people may be experiencing increased threats of violence in their homes.

The fear, uncertainty, and additional responsibilities significantly affect the ability to perform job duties; especially for many no defined beginning, end or breaks to the workday. Extreme and continuous stress diminishes cognitive function and ability to focus.

In India, a month since the lockdown was imposed, professionals across different sectors seem to have mixed feelings about working from home. The majority of families do not have separate rooms and individual workstations for each member at home, or internet services with large bandwidths. In many urban areas flats are small, working with the family looking over their shoulder means the disappearance of boundaries between the two otherwise separate worlds. This has affected family dynamics. Women employees are especially more affected.

Companies, on the other hand, are facing unexpected costs and challenges of providing infrastructure to its employees at home. Faced with diminishing incomes and businesses to run, customers to serve, the result unrealistic expectation of productivity. With fewer employees as well as infrastructure, for companies, simple teamwork takes longer – which means teams have to work longer hours for completing the same work.

The pandemic and lockdown have challenged the traditional ways of thinking about work and work productivity. Some team members thrive in work from home scenario, while others are struggling. Empathy is key to productivity during the pandemic. How organisations lead with empathy in these challenging times will have a ripple effect. Here are some thoughts on empathetic leadership:

Lead with empathy

Communications must take into account the unique circumstances in which team members are living. From facing isolation to health concerns of elderly family members, each person's experience of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown is different. Rember this when talking to employees, putting clear structures in place that enable communications.

Building an empathy culture in these challenging times requires focused efforts from business leaders. Encouraging your teams to develop their "empathy muscles" will make teams better connected, effective and productive.

Communicate early and communicate often

For team leaders, regular communication is vital. What may have been on schedule and doable may suddenly change due to obligations, physical health, or infrastructure challenges. You have not had answers to offer, but keeping in touch will show your team members that you care and give them a sense of security and a sense of being in the boat together. Be transparent in sharing information and bringing people along with the business challenges and strategy.

Supervisors and mid-managers

Supervisors organizing and prioritizing work, and communicating regularly with employees, play a critical role in helping reduce the trauma and lessen employee stress by fostering a sense of safety, power, and control for those under their supervision and their colleagues, writ large. Supporting others can be challenging and emotionally draining. You cannot help others effectively if you are struggling. Adjust your workflow, and acknowledge to your team that this is a difficult time and situation. It's okay to be vulnerable – this can help those you support feel that they are free to do the same.

Manage expectations

Recognize that client deliveries may decline, or that traditional performance measures and expectations may need to be adjusted and communicate this to your clients. Collaborate with clients to reshape workflows to help achieve reasonable results with reduced stress. Communicate changes to policies and practices, explain why changes are being made, and adjust policies and practices to reflect that client's feedback.

Be flexible

Be flexible with schedules. Set clear expectations on core deliverables and mandatory meeting times where necessary. Within that framework, though, allow flexibility with your employees' schedules. With children at home, along with other disruptions to deal with, enable employees space and flexibility to make everything work.

A shared crisis

Team members are aware that the economy is being affected, and it could impact your business too. At the end of the day, people will step up if they know their work is meaningful, their work and their contribution matters. So if we can relate to people with empathy, and rally around a shared mission and a sense of purpose, we'll come out on the other side stronger.

(The article is authored by Ms. Meera Tenguria, Founder & CEO, Aarohan Communications )


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