< WIRe Blog

Acting on Empathy

Criss Corchard-Keeler, Senior Marketing Strategist at InnovateMR

August 17, 2020

Anxious, overwhelmed, struggling to focus? You are not alone. According to a new American Worker study conducted by Logica Research in partnership with InnovateMR and Women in Research (WIRe), 42% of the workforce have expressed a significant uptick in stress, with 31% reporting troubles sleeping, 30% over-indulging on food, and 27% having difficulty concentrating.

Maintaining team focus is a growing concern. 22% of those surveyed within positions of leadership suggested difficulty in effectively managing their teams remotely, with 39% reporting overall productivity of remote employees as a serious concern. Team members are facing this impact, as well; based on results from InnovateMR’s COVID-19 B2B Study, over one-third of Americans currently feel a “lack of support” from their employer.  

To most effectively aide mental wellness during this crisis, companies big and small should expand beyond the playbook of “challenging times.” Organizational calls to batten down the hatches need to grow past generalized empathy as a one-and-done band-aid, and focus on the unique, specific circumstances of their staff.

What is needed most right now is a boots-on-the-ground adaption from leadership – across all levels – that is rooted in anticipating unique situations of strain, and an active, ongoing softening of any conflicting operational edges. This approach can help maintain focus, drive innovation, and inspire teams with the proper support for staving off feelings of hopelessness, burnout, or stress.

To that end, we are sharing five personas built on recent research into the mindset of the American worker. Maybe you work with a colleague who lives alone in quarantine, but you feel uncertain on how to tailor your leadership strategy to suit their needs? Or perhaps you yourself are the primary breadwinner and find yourself besieged on all sides from accumulating pressures?

Measuring sentiment, providing open avenues for feedback, and calibrating your management strategy is vital. Understanding the personas below will help inspire the best in your team and when understood completely, can create newfound synergies and deepen loyalties for the long-haul.

The Working Parent

Working parents juggled multiple balls before COVID. With children now at home full-time in much of the world, the concern is not IF a ball will drop, it’s about anticipating and ensuring coverage when one does drop.

Forty-four percent of people say taking care of children has impacted their work. Per the results of Logica’s recent report, “With 40% of women reporting to be primarily responsible for their children, the ongoing balancing act caused by the pandemic will continue to impact working parents, mothers particularly.”

Strain Points

  • Family first means periods of inaccessibility
  • Time management
  • Enormous sense of pressure

Suggested Approaches for Managers

  • Offload and assist to streamline success. Roll up those sleeves!
  • Relax your instinct towards micromanagement
  • Consider a calendar-driven focus based on deliverables
  • Preface gentle reminders with acknowledgement of the strain.

By fostering flexibility around the myriad of distractions likely to pop up throughout the Working Parent’s day –  whether logging their child into a Zoom classroom or taking a moment from a scheduled work call to kiss a bruised knee – a cushion is afforded that will do wonders!  

Lives Alone

Based on InnovateMR’s recent B2B research, 48% of participants indicated spending more time with family was a silver lining to the current circumstances, but what about those who live alone?

While water-cooler conversation is usually pretty dry, the day-to-day of office routine has long provided a sense of stability and socialization for even the most rigid of introverts. In its absence, feelings of alienation and futility can run rampant. 70% of workers report missing basic interaction with colleagues, and this group is typically the hardest hit.

Strain Points

  • Disruption of routine can spiral if left in a vacuum
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Generalized aimlessness and sense of futility

Suggested Approach

  • Quick “just because” phone calls or messages can do wonders
  • Offer positives and affirmations. “Tough love” should be avoided.
  • Shout out accomplishments by name on team calls to reinforce a sense of purpose
  • Direction should be on the short-term as a daily focus, to keep wins attainable and constant

Solutions for the Lives Alone group should strive to reinforce that they are valued, needed, and secure; both in their professional environment, and a (potentially sparse) personal one.

The Caretaker

The Caretaker archetype has moved back in with parents or is visiting a relative for an extended period, potentially due to monetary issues or in an actual caregiver capacity. Much like the Working Parent, they find themselves tasked with enormous pressures during prolonged cohabitation, and the suggested approach is much the same.

Strain Points

  • Family first means periods of inaccessibility
  • Possible financial issues, health crisis, or both may be looming
  • Time management

Suggested Approach

  • Offload and assist to streamline success. Get creative to help them realize success!
  • Relax your instinct towards micromanagement
  • Consider a calendar-driven focus based on deliverables

Flexibility of schedule holds sway with The Caretaker. Be mindful not to presume too much about financial or health concerns in the household unless explicitly confided in. That said, by providing cover-fire and helping keep prioritization of tasks streamlined, you can ensure the wiggle room necessary for success.

Young Professional

The Young Professional is like the Lives Alone, in that they may face periods of prolonged dread or alienation. What is unique here is the increased potential for a fight or flight response. Half of millennial-aged respondents indicated increased levels of anxiety since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Decreases in satisfaction with employers and their careers since the beginning of the pandemic are evident more-so in millennial age respondents compared to their Gen-X or Boomer peers.

Strain Points

  • Deflation
  • Potential flight risk
  • Feelings of pointlessness can spiral if left to flounder too long

Suggested Approach

  • Ensure career pathing remains a talk-track
  • Consider mentorship programs or facilitating new skill sets
  • Lead with positives/affirmations
  • Keep the focus on daily/weekly efforts, with a clear vision of benchmarks for success

The Young Professional is more resilient than “millennial” stereotypes would have us believe but he/she is nonetheless susceptible to growing anxiety in situations of perceived stagnation or neglect. Small efforts of respect toward their career trajectory and placement can go a long way.

The Workhorse

With a Workhorse, you might have very little indication that they are carrying a tremendous load on their shoulders, as their exterior can be battle-hardened to belie any inward struggle. Professional and stoic, they take on a lot and can sometimes burn out in tragic fashion due to an unforgiving personal work ethic.

Of those married or living with a partner who was employed before the COVID-19 crisis, 31% report their partner has been laid-off, furloughed, or had hours reduced since COVID hit. These unsung heroes may be contending with a restless spouse and economic concerns.

Strain Points

  • Burn-out can seemingly happen all-at-once
  • Takes on extra work to ensure stability of role, sometimes to their own detriment
  • May have an enormous sense of household pressure or economic concerns

Suggested Approach

  • Offload and assist to avoid extra strain.
  • Push back on workload, even if they insist (Superman Syndrome)
  • Ensure they are using vacation time and mental health days
  • Be direct when intervening

While the Single Parent and the Caregiver may both benefit from a general awareness of their situation, The Workhorse has a notorious poker face. Their strong work ethic and pride in their reliability can lead them to dig their heels in and not advocate for themselves, particularly when dealing with mental health. When in doubt, focus your efforts as a manager on keeping their workload streamlined, realistic, and practical.  

As business leaders seek to find success in a new corporate landscape, a call for empathy can help teams feel engaged, inspired, and motivated, but only if it is proactive and application-based. Not sure if your colleagues fall into one of the archetypes above? Take time to reflect, lead with openness, and a willingness to truly listen. Outside circumstances may be beyond our control, but compassion can help illuminate the path forward.

Join us for Part 2, where we will be discussing tips to navigate the fine line between employer and friend from a HR perspective, and suggest some essential Do’s and Don’ts for putting the suggestions above into action with confidence!

About the Author

Criss Corchard-Keeler is the Senior Marketing Strategist for InnovateMR. With over a decade of insights experience, she has collaborated with clients across a wide range of sectors by supporting complex market research engagements. A commitment to client-centricity shapes Criss’ career, which kicked off with a project management role, leading to successive positions in operations, supply, and account management. Criss excels at developing and executing strategies that strengthen client relationships. When not in quarantine, Criss spends her weekends empowering others to look and feel their best as a certified makeup artist.

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