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Managing with Empathy: How Should You Treat Your People During Difficult Times 

Hi, I’m Nicola from the People Mentor.  

I hope you’re all managing to stay safe and well. 

I thought that I’d do a few podcasts that will help managers during this time.  

I know that many of you will be managing teams remotely, maybe for the first time, and not only that, you’re managing teams remotely during a pandemic, a global crisis, when everyone’s stress and anxiety levels are sky-high.  

This is not your everyday people management situation so it demands more than an everyday response. Now is the time to manage with empathy, understanding, and humanity, and management ‘as usual is not enough.  

So where should you start? 

Communication is more important than ever.

If your team is working from home, they should have everything they need to do most tasks effectively, but there’s no harm in asking if there’s anything else you could provide them with to make their jobs, and lives, easier.  

As well as this, you have to consider how they might be coping in general. People are anxious at the moment, and many are having to juggle work tasks with looking after children, going out to buy essentials, and other things, so they are probably not going to be anywhere near as productive as usual. Now might be the time to say that you are prepared to be more flexible with when and how people work and meet deadlines, and maybe even allow them to take a few days off if everything is getting too much.  

Work is important, of course, but we are talking about people’s lives here. Even if you feel that some questions are personal to ask, do ask employees if there is anything that’s impacting how well they are able to do their job at the moment and how they are coping, and make allowances and offer support accordingly.  

It is important to ask exactly what would make people feel more supported. For example, would they like you to check in with them more often? Would they like to schedule some virtual ‘coffee catch-ups’? 

Connection is crucial at this time.

So don’t think that you’re ‘wasting time’ being on a Zoom or telephone call. Emails are fine too but don’t make them your sole method of communication. When people are working remotely, it can be isolating, and at a time like this, it’s so important to make sure people know they’re not alone and that you’re all in this together.  

Of course, isolation is just one of the issues that affect people who are working remotely. Another big problem, as those of you who often work from home anyway, will already know, is that the lines between work and life can very quickly become blurred.  

Hands up: who is already answering messages and emails before you get out of bed?

How many of you are dealing with emails and making phone calls way outside of what would be your usual working hours?

How many of you feel that there’s no clear line at all between life and work at the moment?  

Carry on this way and you will burn out fast. As a manager, you should be leading the way in demonstrating that the only way to work remotely and do so successfully is to set boundaries early on and put a good routine in place that involves set working hours, regular breaks, set mealtimes, and exercise.  

All of the things I’ve mentioned in this podcast; communication, offering support and understanding, and being flexible are not only a blueprint for effective and compassionate management; how you manage your team and how you treat people during this time will have a bearing on how much people trust you, how hard they’ll be willing to work for you, and how well the business recovers going forward.  

If your team feel like they have lost trust in you or the business, or they feel that their anxieties and concerns are not being met with empathy, this is a big problem. At a time like this, people need to know their employer has their back. It’s not enough to fire out emails saying ‘we know how difficult it is for you at this time,’ you need to show them that you get it.  

If you don’t treat people well during tough times, they will remember, and even worse, they’ll tell people about it. You know how people are more likely to tell someone about a bad experience than they are about a good one? This could be damaging to the reputation of the business at a time when the focus should be on rebuilding and recovering from a crisis, rather than firefighting problems caused by bad publicity.  

And let’s not forget, when things do get back to some form of normality, you are going to need teams of people who are engaged and willing to work hard to bring things back up to speed.

The way to make sure that this is what happens is to work hard to make sure that people feel appreciated and cared for, throughout this crisis and beyond. You know what they say, people who are appreciated always do more than what is expected, and hopefully, you’ll see the evidence for yourself when this is all over.  

No business can exist and be successful without the help of its most valuable resource; teams of engaged and hard-working people. As managers, you should never forget that there’s more to management than caring about the bottom line. You have to care about your people, in good times, and in bad. 

Managing people, and doing it well, and with empathy, can be a fine balancing act, and it’s far from easy. Making sure that treating people well is at the heart of your business is not only a savvy business decision, it’s simply the right thing to do.  

We’re all human beings and we’re all going through a collective crisis, so the emphasis on the ‘human’ aspect needs to shine through, now more than ever.  

I hope you found this podcast helpful. Be sure to tune in again soon for more tips on successful people and business management. 

This is The People Mentor, signing off.  

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