How Businesses Can Weather COVID-19: Start with Empathy to Employees

By Ed Mitzen

Major U.S. businesses are adjusting operations, laying off employees or reducing hours in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

It’s uncharted territory for the nation, and companies from large brands to small businesses, like everyone else, are operating without a playbook to deal with an unprecedented public health threat that will also have economic implications. How businesses adjust to the pandemic and respond to this “new normal” is critical to the future of their business.

The most important part is showing empathy to employees—now more than ever in these uncertain times. While every company is dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s important to keep in mind that your employees are being affected in more ways than one. Added challenges to daily life now include your partner working next to you, your children being home from school and having to keep an extra close eye on elderly relatives. In these unusual circumstances, people will notice which companies are treating their employees with empathy and compassion and which are not.

A business leader’s response during a time like this defines who they are as a leader.

This challenging time could be used by business owners to assess their company culture and consider that how they treat employees is central to that culture and vital for business results. Leaders can show empathy to employees, strengthen company culture and drive performance by doing the following:

  • Lead with support, not force. Culture starts at the top, and the best results come when leaders support their people and help them get the most out of life, rather than trying to squeeze them to work harder and harder. People can sacrifice for the job for only so long before they burn out. It may sound counterintuitive, but sometimes prioritizing life over work actually improves the work product. Once you hire good people, you don’t have to push them with crazy deadlines to squeeze productivity out of them.
  • Build a team of caring people. Business is a team sport. To have an empathetic culture, you need people who care for each other and work well together. Build teams by looking for people who lead with empathy. Don’t hire jerks. People who are super-talented but can’t get along with others tend to destroy the team dynamics, and the work product suffers.
  • Define a positive culture—and the work. Showing empathy to employees can be an engine generating creativity and productivity. The internal culture at a company defines the work the company produces. Culture influences who chooses to work for you, how long they stay and the quality of work they do. And the core of the culture is empathy, starting with employees and extending to customers and the communities that you live in. There’s a strong connection between a healthy work culture that inspires people and the work customers are receiving. That kind of company makes sure customers are treated the same way they are being treated.

Now, more than ever, empathy, kindness and compassion are important values to keep at the forefront of your organization. Business leaders can take the lead in doing the right thing, starting with their employees.

Ed Mitzen is the ForbesBook author of More Than a Number: The Power of Empathy and Philanthropy in Driving Ad Agency Performance, and the founder of Fingerpaint, an independent advertising agency.

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.