'Show empathy'

Human resource practitioners are being urged to show empathy to staff members, especially in the present COVID-19 environment.

The advice is coming from Talent Development Specialist, Joan Underwood. She made the comments while speaking during the Sagicor Cave Hill School of Business and Management’s webinar on the topic ‘Coping with Challenges – Strategies for HR Managers’ as she responded to a question regarding how to engage employees and best cater to their needs at this time. But, she warned that HR practitioners may not be able to make all the employees happy.

“We have come with solutions which we think are in the best interest of the employees, while taking into consideration the organisational imperative. However, every individual employee has peculiar circumstances and we may not be aware of the specific challenges that each of our employees is experiencing. So exercise some empathy, try to understand where they are coming from,” she stated.

Underwood continued, “One of the things that I have found as an HR practitioner is, our outcome can be improved if we seek first to understand the concerns that are being expressed, and only then seek to be understood... It begins with listening and then you can tailor your explanation based on what you’ve heard and understood.”

Next, the HR specialist said that in addition to hearing and expressing appreciation for what employees share, they should then link what they have to share with the organisational as well as national and international imperatives.

“A lot of what is happening now is not under our direct control. We have found ourselves in a crisis, we have found ourselves dealing with some very harsh realities and as much as we would like to do more, as much as we would like to do better, we have to deal with the constraints that we face,” she said.

Additionally, Underwood said it is a good idea for HR practitioners to invite their employees to be a part of the problem-solving efforts within the organisation and to make suggestions on how to do business in the current environment.

“When you get those suggestions, examine them to see what the merit is, and then you can have the conversation in terms of acknowledging
those elements that are in fact valid and practical given the constraints, and explaining why those which cannot be implemented, cannot be,” she stated.

Her comments came as she noted that the International Labour Organisation has predicted that the COVID-19 pandemic could reduce global working hours by almost seven per cent in the second quarter of this year. Additionally, she said the ILO estimates that the pandemic has resulted in as much as 81 per cent of the labour force being affected by the lockdown. Underwood further indicated that it is estimated that as much as 140 million workers in the informal economy in Latin America and the Caribbean have been adversely impacted.

“What compounds all of this is that there is no definitive projection for when – if at all – we will be able to return to pre-pandemic business as usual, when it comes to where we work and how we work. I heard in the news the other day that Twitter has decided that their employees would never come back to the office, because they could continue to work remotely and accomplish what needed to be done. Again, for each of our organisations those types of determinations would need to be made,” she added. (JRT)

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