In the ‘old days‘ (Pre Covid-19) managers were often chosen and promoted on their ability to obtain goals and objectives and manage and evaluate the performance of employees who could fulfill a set of tasks. Organizations often focused on hiring managers with an eye toward who would become an effective coach.
Does that still make sense today?
- As we emerge from the pandemic here in the US, how we will work from now on has changed drastically. Many will find that the workplace has become a hybrid environment with options about how, where, and even when work gets done.
- Remote work is now part of the fabric of most working lives. This means that for at least some of the time, either the manager or the employee will be working from home. It is less likely people will be working on the same things at the same time. The focus will shift to the output rather than the process to produce the output. And the ‘Hey – got a minute’ quick informal communication and touching base after a meeting or passing in the hallway has almost vanished from view.
- Technology is more often used to work with and monitor employees. Scheduling software, team communication apps, and auditing tools will replace or augment some of the manager’s activities.
How manager’s support employees will play a larger role as employees will expect their boss to be aware of and play an understanding role as they tackle issues of mental health, stress, self-care and child care.
If managerial tasks are replaced by technology, then managers aren’t needed to manage workflows. And if interactions become primarily virtual, then managers can no longer rely on what they see to manage performance.
When the boss/employee relationship become more focused on emotional support, managers will be unable to limit the relationship to only the world of work.
What is needed from post-pandemic managers?
Now a manager who wants to be successful will need to be (more) empathic. While displaying empathy isn’t a new skill – it really hasn’t been a priority for most managers. Now we not only will look for managers to understand work; we will be looking for managers to proactively ask questions in order to really understand what their employees are experiencing.
Empathy requires a higher level of trust and a culture of acceptance and that’s a lot to ask of anyone – let alone a manager who may have been hired into their position based on totally different criteria. While it is more important now than ever, the ability to develop empathy is not difficult to acquire.
How can a manager develop (an increase in) empathy?
Understanding what empathy is and using it as a management tool are two different things. For many managers, it can feel like having a conversation that is too personal for the workplace. Whenever a client needs to learn a new skill, the answer is always – practice, practice, and practice. It’s the same with developing empathy. Allow for the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. Try to keep in mind that acquiring these non-technical, interpersonal skills is more like a dimmer switch on a light than the typical on-and-off switch. Acquiring a new skill is rarely instantaneous.
To develop empathy, try these suggestions out:
- Start with having conversations where you listen and ask questions to develop a deeper level of understanding. Be curious.
- Focus on listening rather than problem-solving or offering an opinion.
- Give your whole attention (no phone or computer screen).to the person
- Engage with people who are different from you.
The organization that supports its’ managers in their efforts to become (more) empathic will see improved engagement and performance of their workforce. That’s smart business pre AND post pandemic.