While mass layoffs are not new, what is baffling is the abject insensitivity with which these are being conducted. It almost seems like enterprises are reacting to employees’ quiet quitting with loud firing.
It is disconcerting to see large enterprises that have built their cultures around employee well-being adopting unceremonious emails and blocking access to layoffs of employees without any warning.
At Twitter, Inc., people received emails at 2.00 AM on the weekend and found their access cut off immediately. Google also laid off thousands unceremoniously and terminated access in the middle of the night. Microsoft laid off over 10,000 employees a day after organizing a private concert with the legendary icon Sting for their top executives. Employees were completely blindsided when Meta and Amazon announced their layoffs. They did not see this coming.
Enterprises might argue that this move is not reactionary but responsive to the challenging economic climate and rising geopolitical tensions. Sundar Pichai has stated that they “hired for a different economic reality than we face today” in the memo that announced the mass layoffs.
While these shenanigans seem chaotic, they seem to also be a part of a wider trend where employers are demonstrating their dominance. Not so long ago, we met the great resignation followed by quiet quitting. Those trends made it seem that the workforce was gaining the upper hand. Loud firing seems like a message being sent to the workforce.
This might not be the case at all. As Pichai mentioned, these firings are a response to the reality we face today. This brings me to the question – do these enterprises realize the impact of these actions on the psychological safety of their employees? How does it reflect their culture?? These layoffs have a chilling effect and, honestly, are a bad look to wear.
Using data to curate the list of layoffs seems potentially efficient; removing the human element from the difficult decisions of who to fire and who to keep impacts the trust and morale of all. The employees left behind will no longer trust their leaders, and loyalty could become a challenge for future recruits. It also impacts innovation since innovations need the space to experiment and make mistakes.
If we solely use algorithms and AI without a human element, we are signing up for disaster.
Enterprises Need to Embrace Empathy Fast
Enterprises worldwide have been talking about building more empathy in how we work to drive employee wellness and productivity. It has been considered one of the crucial drivers of engagement and a critical tool to lead in this hybrid world of work. Most organizations are talking about building a conscious culture and creating great places to work.
However, the events that unfolded over the past year were shocking because of the engineering approach taken to solve a problem. The approach lacked empathy. These actions show that there is a lot of learning and unlearning needed to make empathy a part of the organizational DNA.
We might speak of empathy, but clearly, that’s not enough.
Empathy Is a Verb – The Impact of Empathy is in Action
The dictionary categorizes ’empathy’ as a noun. It is the ability to comprehend and share the feelings of another. However, in real life, empathy needs to be translated into action. Unless we see empathy in action, it is just an empty word.
Studies prove that managers and leaders who actively practice empathy can build more trust and psychological safety across their teams. This has a ripple effect across the entire organization and leads to higher job performance and productivity.
The feeling that leaders and managers understand you, are working for your best interest, have got your back, and do not judge your lived experiences can be a tremendous motivator that drives job excellence. It makes people feel that they are not a statistic or a data point.
Empathy is that magic pill that helps leaders understand what motivates their people and allows them to provide contextual encouragement and relevant solutions to solve their challenges.
It is also crucial for building resilience across the organization. This is because empathy contributes directly towards the creation of a growth mindset. It teaches humility to those leading. It encourages acceptance of what is beyond our control without judgment and creates the space needed for exploration and discovery.
Empathy is the single most critical skill for today’s world of work, as without it, there is higher attrition and lower inclusivity and, consequently, lower engagement and productivity.
Empathy Is Important – Why Are We Not Doing It?
We now know that VUCA is here to stay. If anything, it’s only going to get worse. In such times, leaders and managers have to develop the capabilities to understand the feelings and emotions of the workforce to effectively lead them. Leaders lacking empathy make bad decisions. And even if the decisions are good or unavoidable, a lack of empathy makes even the best decisions wrong as it negatively impacts the entire workforce.
Google, for example, gave good severance packages to the employees they laid off. However, this did not become a focal point mainly because of the unempathetic and tone-deaf way the firing was conducted. Had Google leaders spoken to their employees and not fired them the way they did, would the company have faced such criticism?
Empathy is not a brand-new skill. It is a skill that has to be nurtured and developed since it assumes a new level of importance in today’s world of work. But if empathy is so important, why are we not doing it?
This is because most leaders and managers do not know how to be empathetic. And that’s because:
- Empathy demands a complete submission of all our limiting beliefs. It requires the capacity to accept another’s reality without coloring it with our own views, thoughts, and beliefs.
- Empathy comes from a place of self-awareness that helps us identify when we are allowing our personal beliefs to influence our thoughts about others’ experiences.
- Building empathy requires people to drive a behavioral shift in the way they think and communicate their thoughts. As such, building empathy requires constant evaluation of individual behaviors and exploration of one’s beliefs without judgment.
Empathy Needs Coaching
Coaching becomes an invaluable tool to help leaders learn the art of empathy. It provides a safe space for those in charge to be vulnerable, ask questions, explore their belief systems, identify limiting beliefs, and create strong action plans that bring change.
Coaching becomes an essential tool since it not only helps people identify the actions needed to reach their goals but also builds the accountability to commit to the actions.
A coach works constantly and consistently with people to help them come up with solutions that will take them to their end goal. If one strategy doesn’t work, they come up with another. There is constant course correction. The learner commits to those actions and implements them in their everyday life. If they don’t, they have the coach to answer to.
Coaching is critical for empathy as it allows people to break out of the state of ‘homeostasis.’ Homeostasis is the process that helps the body maintain its operational equilibrium. While biologically this process helps us function, psychologically, it prevents us from making meaningful and lasting changes. It is homeostasis that deters significant changes in behavior and takes us back to old habits even though we have an awareness of their negative or positive impact.
Coaching creates awareness and provides the insight, check, and direction that keep building forward movement. Since the agents of homeostasis are always at work, coaches become essential to help us embed the new behaviors through constant and consistent actions, practice, awareness, and commitment.
The Way Forward
Given the continued resilience of the job market, it is clear that these times are not likely to last. However, the constant, dynamic, and volatile changes in the enterprise environment today demand that leaders and managers demonstrate actions that show empathy to create trust and equilibrium between the employer and the employee side.
Building empathy and learning to use it like action cannot be achieved in a day-long training session. It is a long-term change and hence, needs long-term support. Driving sustainable and significant behavioral change needs regular external interventions until it is internalized.
When empathy becomes a habit, organizational leaders think twice before they act insensitively. Empathy builds the emotional intelligence that helps leaders to create impactful strategies for their organizations without disturbing the delicate balance of trust between them and the employees.
We are now standing at a cusp where technology, AI, and chatbots will rewire human engagement. However, we need to remember that these technologies are still in a supporting role, especially when it comes to human-centered decisions.
Enterprises need to remember that the eyes are now on them. Employees are watching how they conduct themselves, and this will influence their choices of whether to stay with you or find another workplace. And in all likelihood, when they search, they will be seeking a place where leaders and organizational actions are empathetic.
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