Leadership in Corona times: Employees want more empathy

Leadership in Corona times: Employees want more empathy

The corona management of most executives gets employee praise. However, conflicts are often postponed, which can then have a negative impact on the working atmosphere. […]

“A lot of things go a little slower,” summarizes Ergovia Managing Director Jens Buchloh, after his approximately 25 employees have now been working largely from their home office for almost two years. As a manager, his day-to-day work could also be a little quieter, but at the same time he invests more time in empathic leadership.

“A part of the corporate culture is gradually being lost,” says the man from Kiel, because everyone lacks a snack at the workplace or beer after work. So he has to take more care of the social putty – more often ask how it goes and whether the employees feel comfortable. As in many IT companies, there was little demand for professional leadership at Ergovia even before Corona, because the employees themselves must have this competence and personal responsibility, otherwise flat hierarchies or agile project work will not work. But Buchloh notes that working at a distance requires even more intensive and open contact.

Jens Buchloh, Ergovia: “There is a danger that a part of the corporate culture will be lost.“

As an example, the managing Director cites the respective reaction to changes in the corona situation: “We have almost always reacted before politics”. So Ergovia canceled his Christmas party when it was still about 2G, 3G with or without plus. Buchloh never makes such decisions alone, but informs the employees about the state of affairs during an online meeting, then it is discussed and decided together.

The same in the summer with the number of tests: the general manager sets the framework, the team decides. As a result, there is a feeling in the company: we are going through Corona together. The feedback from the employees is therefore excellent: we feel in good hands, we act, the boss cares about us.

Across all industries, the majority of employees (57 percent) are satisfied with the commitment and care of their managers – whether home office, work opportunities or technology, homeschooling, contact restrictions due to parents or even the interaction of family and work. Three-fifths of employees have the impression that their company has developed a better understanding of them. This is the result of the two-part study “Corona and the consequences”, which the personnel service provider Hays published in November.

On the one hand, 1000 employees were interviewed, on the other hand, 755 managers. Almost two thirds of the employees appreciate the open communication of their company about the current situation, even if the management could only communicate their own uncertainty or annoyance about the changing regulations. The communicated loss of control also strengthens the commonality. Basically, the employees feel appreciation and recognition through the exchange.

However, there is also criticism of leadership behavior. On the one hand, this concerns a closer-meshed control and on the other hand a lack of empathy. Almost half of the employees complain about the increased pressure, almost 40 percent register leadership from above and 36 percent that they are controlled very precisely when, how much and how they work. 45 Percent feel more interchangeable and less important, and more than a third are even permanently disappointed in their own employer.

According to Dirk Hahn, CEO of Mannheimer Hays AG, leadership is a balancing act between trust and control: “The statements about increasing digital control and the participatory leadership style that has only been partially implemented in reality should make managers pay attention. This shows important adjustments to employee retention, especially against the background of the increasing shortage of skilled workers“.

Dirk Hahn, Hays: “Leadership is a balancing act between control and trust.“

“Communication and commitment are extremely important at the moment,” Marcus Briesen also notes. The explosive nature of the past spring is no longer there at the moment, but creating connections within and between different teams remains a core topic, according to the authorized signatory of Disy Informationssysteme.

“We reported very quickly on our solid to very good economic situation, on the customers and the status of the projects,” recalls the Karlsruher. So the 170 employees realized that they did not have to worry about finances.

Marcus Briesen, Disy Informationssysteme: “Communication and engagement are extremely important at the moment.“

Until everyone in the home office was fully able to work, only 14 days passed, then the Internet was up, office chairs or monitors had moved from the office to home and the regulated communication worked virtually. Because the management took more care of working parents with children and singles, for whom the office was a big part of social life, she got a lot of positive feedback: “We received very touching emails”.

The atmosphere in the first phase of the home office was surprisingly good – no loss of time due to directions, new communication tools or closer connection between work and family. In the meantime, Briesen, much like Jens Buchloh, has noticed that the “glue” has been lost for some time due to the purely virtual cooperation. If two years ago small conflicts were resolved in direct contact in three minutes, today they are more likely to be postponed, become larger and can be resolved with more effort.

Or: In service and consulting, knowledge about customers, ways of solving problems and also about professional matters grows through close contact: you hear something there, you ask quickly. This is almost completely missing, because sitting in the same office cannot be replaced by virtual contacts. It didn’t help that Disy expanded a web-based messaging service, created a virtual room with a coffee machine or shared lunch breaks. “There is simply no substitute for direct contact,” says Briesen, “even the developers, who have been working closely together virtually for a long time, regularly met in one place before Corona”.

Corona is leading to changes in the world of work, most agree. There are a number of activities that can be done more effectively, because with more rest in the home office. Companies will give employees who have a sick child at home or want to attend a doctor’s appointment more confidence and react more flexibly. Business trips are replaced by virtual conferences in order to save money and, most importantly, time. But direct contact between employees is irreplaceable – for the employees themselves, for creative cooperation and for greater corporate success.

*Jens Gieseler works as a freelance journalist in Tübingen.

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