Three Ways HR Pros Can Practice Empathy During COVID-19

Three Ways HR Pros Can Practice Empathy During COVID-19

By Tricia O'Connor

This week, EBI employees began receiving a daily inspirational quote delivered to our email inboxes. The idea was borne from Marti Kurland, who heads Global Design Culture at EBI. Following our transition to a 100% remote workforce, Marti and the EBI HR Team held a series of conversations with employees about their new work environment and what challenges they were facing. 

What they discovered is that employees, like thousands of other newly remote workforces, are feeling anxious because of COVID-19. They found that balancing homeschool with work duties is tough. They found out some people are caring for ill parents. They found out that previously existing mental health challenges are being exacerbated by this stressful situation.

Our EBI people managers asked questions. They actively listened to employees’ feelings. And then they created an action plan.

That’s empathy. Here are three ways you can show empathy and ease employee’s anxiety during COVID-19.

1. Practice Active Listening

Listening well is the most practical first step you can take to practicing empathy. Despite what you may think, most of us are not naturally good listeners. Active listening is a learned skill requiring effort and concentration.

Active listening is hearing not only the words your colleagues are saying but understanding the complete message they’re communicating. It’s listening to obtain information and learn the motivation or reason behind their words. It’s not about formulating a counter argument or reacting with your own opinion.

Engaging in active listening takes a lot of concentration and a desire on your part to limit distractions. And this is where things get tough in our COVID-19 work from home environment. Not only are general employees working remotely, but chances are you are, too. If possible, use a home office with a closed door or find a quiet corner or closet so you can concentrate on your conversations with employees. Keep your internet browser closed so you’re not tempted to scroll social or scan news. And collaborate with your partner to alternate parenting or home school shifts with work tasks. If you can establish “office hours” for phone calls and meetings, communicate that to your colleagues in your email signature so they know the best time to reach out to you for an uninterrupted chat.

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2. Walk in Someone Else’s Shoes

Working from home looks and feels different for everyone. And when the decision to work remotely is taken out of your hands, the transition can be a shock. Employees’ routines are disrupted. Their workspace is different. Their emotions may be in disarray. All these factors mean we need to show each other a little more empathy.

At its core, empathy is compassion; The ability to understand someone’s thoughts and feelings and take their concerns into consideration. Much like yoga, it’s an exercise that needs to be practiced to become effective. While humans may be born with the capacity for empathy, it’s actually a learned behavior.

There are tremendous benefits of being an empathetic people manager. Businessolver’s 2017 Workplace Empathy Monitor Report shows 77% of workers would be willing to work more hours and 60% would accept a reduced salary for a more empathetic workplace. Considering pay cuts are happening across industries because of coronavirus, it is more important than ever to practice empathy. 

The good news is that empathy is not restricted to the office. It’s a life skill that can be practiced anywhere – even at home. During this COVID-19 chaos, HR professionals and managers can continue to stretch their empathy muscles by focusing on employee well-being as it relates to employee productivity. Showing that you’re coming from a place of concern rather than business advancement, is important while families are juggling new realities and people are struggling with mental health challenges.

Scheduling check-ins with employees, or even your own team members, provides you an opportunity to gauge employees’ stress levels, address any work concerns, and simply get to know them in their new environments. Stepping into their shoes even for a 10-minute phone call shows you care about them as employees, and more importantly, as human beings.

More Information: EBI’s Screening News Network has a new look during the coronavirus pandemic but the same great screening information you need! Subscribe here.

3. Understand the ‘Why’

You can’t control how a person feels or how they react to a situation. You can, however, ask them why they’re feeling that way. That’s an empathetic response.

Empathy is not sympathy. Empathy is feeling with people. It’s finding a connection with another person through what they’re saying and finding that same feeling. When we’re hyper-focused on keeping up productivity and maintaining revenue in this challenging economy, empathy is often the first to go.

However, we’re already starting in an empathic deficit. A 2017 Gallup poll shows only 40% of workers feel someone at work seems to care about them as a person. That was three years before COVID-19! This new reality filled with new anxieties and concerns means you may need to take some extra time in conversations with people to find out not only what their concern is, but how they’re feeling about it.

Catherine Mattice, a workplace culture expert with Civility Partners, says video conferences are great tools to use during this time to connect with employees. There is something about seeing a person that fosters a deeper connection than just conversing through email or a phone call. Being able to see someone’s work environment or read their body language can give you additional insight into their reactions and help you practice empathy.

EBI Is Here For You

Check back in to EBI’s COVID-19 HR Resources page next week as we explore more human resources topics focused on positivity and boosting morale! We are all in this together. The deeper we get into this COVID-19 crisis, the more we need to lean on each other.

We are here to help. Get to know EBI and speak with one of our experts.

About the Author

Tricia O'Connor

Tricia O'Connor

Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

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