The recent raging pandemic has disrupted the world economy in a humongous way causing socio-psychological stressors affecting the mental well-being of employees. The fear of losing jobs due to economic shutdowns, or facing challenges of digitisation of the workplace, or fear of contaminating illness generated a feeling of despair and panic to more serious paranoia behaviour amongst the employees. The present study aims at investigating how did the leadership use prosocial empathic skills during this pandemic to manage the mental well-being of their respective employees, so that they are motivated and engaged for meaningful performance. The major themes that emerged from the structured interviews of the apex leadership were (1) compassionate empathic behaviour impacts the employee motivation and performance; (2) open, honest and timely vertical communication promotes trust and bonding; (3) support for employee autonomy impacts their well-being; (4) encouraging competence and self-efficacy in employees; (5) promoting positive and healthy relationships by displaying compassionate empathy positively impacts mental health and thereby employee performance during crisis. Right from providing unified Communication platform, to displaying empathic leadership, the apex leadership unanimously believes that people are their best assets and if managed well in the crisis can help them stem the storm successfully.
COVID Impact on the Industry
Both India and the world have faced a humongous brunt of the pandemic in every sector of their economy be it the civil aviation, manufacturing, tourism, agricultural and transport etc. The major cause of this sudden fall in the economy is ascribed to a complete disruption in the demand and supply chain all over the world due to forced intermittent lockdowns. A report by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs has projected that the world economy is set to lose nearly $8.5 trillion over the next 2 years besides it may likely push more than 34 million people into extreme poverty. The Covid-19 which is seen as the rarest phenomenon since the 1930s Great Depression (Euro news, 2020), has shut down the large parts of the world economy leading to the closure of factories and affecting the employment of the people in a worst possible way (Hoque et al., 2020; Ramakumar, 2020). According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the rise in unemployment because of COVID-19 could be up to 25 million worldwide.
In case of India, according to Raghuram Rajan, former RBI Governor, “This is the greatest emergency for the Indian economy since independence.” Every sector of the Indian economy has been hit hard and that too, disproportionately, including agriculture and its allied sectors like horticulture, and poultry, manufacturing especially automotive sector and MSMEs; and service sector that is the key driver of economic growth and largest contributor to the Indian GDP’ (Aneja & Ahuja, 2020). According to a survey by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (Nag, 2020), India’s unemployment rate could have climbed to more than 20 per cent as people lost their jobs due to frequent lockdowns during the years 2020 and 2021. The case in point is Mumbai’s world renowned dabbawalas (lunchbox carriers) who were known for their efficient supply chain and logistics who are rendered jobless today and are not in a position to restart their work as many have gone to their hometowns and are unable to return (Prahladrao, 2020).
Impact of Pandemic on the Employee’s Mental Health
However, these disruptions and upsetting of the economy due to the raging pandemic have also been found to be a source of major sociological, psychological and cultural challenges world over. These have been “a source of intense stress for the whole world population”. There has been observed a negative effect on the mental health of people as reported by Ginger, a mental health provider. They point out that the majority of the employees (nearly seven in 10 workers) admit that the coronavirus pandemic is the most stressful time of their professional career and it even out beats stress they felt during the major events like 9/11 and the 2008 Great Recession. Varied reasons have been identified that could affect the mental health of people. Prominent among them being perception of safety, threat and risk of contagion (Brooks et al., 2020; Xiang et al., 2019); or financial loss and job insecurity (Brooks et al., 2020; Zhou et al., 2020) or overloading of information and uncertainty (Gao et al., 2020; Garfin et al., 2020); or the fear of being quarantined and confinement (Qiu et al., 2020; Wanga et al., 2020), and suffering from the stigma and social exclusion (Xiang et al., 2019). Additionally, Das (2020) observes that the problems of mental health could be attributed partially to the hyper-active social media news that is full of negativity and sensationalism about the people and the disease.
Effects of COVID on Employees
This spread of fear, worry and concern across the population in particular amongst the working professionals, can take its toll on their work output or performance. Ginger confirms in their report that 62% of the workers are losing at least 1 h a day in productivity due to COVID-19-related stress, with 32% losing more than 2 h per day. No leadership or management in this world can afford or imagine to run a profitable organization with employees feeling mentally disturbed and morally low. Major complications that the employees faced, at their personal level, during these unprecedented COVID times, are adjusting to a new work-life situation that includes moving from face-to-face interaction to WFH model, leading to social isolation, deprivation and abandonment. Additionally, the fear of losing jobs due to economic shutdowns, lack of infrastructure, or facing the new challenges of automation and digitisation of the workplace, or fear of contaminating illness generated a feeling of despair and panic to more serious paranoia behaviour amongst the employees. These socio-psychological stressors significantly affected the mental well-being of employees.
Role of Empathic Leadership
Since, employees are the real assets of any organisation, therefore it should become the paramount concern of all the managements in the World to ensure the health and well-being of an employee that should take care of their financial, physical, and emotional issues. This concern should become more pronounced especially in these trying times of dealing with a pandemic. Sally Welborn, former senior vice president of global benefits for Walmart Stores commented that “Whether they are working on the front lines or working at home, employees are urgently in need of accessible, equitable mental health benefits now more than ever.” Further, Mayer (2020) suggests that “As employers wrestle with business continuity planning during COVID-19, this research confirms that employers need to make mental health support a critical aspect of that plan, or risk a dramatic impact on employee health and productivity”.
Albeit, it is reported that many organizations have been proactive in taking control of employee’s health and financial issues, howbeit they seem to have failed in attending to their emotional needs which can at times put both the employees and the organization into jeopardy. The research demonstrates that “emotionally expressive leaders were, in fact, more effective” (Groves, 2006:172) and consequently, they should hand hold the employees to stem through this time and be sensitive to their stress, anxiety and other concerns. Among the things they can do is focus on the humanization of work and display lot of empathy towards their employees. “Empathy plays a key role in our emotional and social interactions, it is essential for healthy coexistence among people, mutual understanding, and cooperation. It affects our motivation through prosocial behaviour, altruism, compassion and caring for others, it inhibits aggression, and is the foundation for morality…” (Bošnjaković & Radionov, 2018: 123).
“One interactional purpose of empathic behaviour is to act and communicate in such a way that the other person feels understood. To achieve this, one must understand the situation and emotions of the other person first. Empathy is therefore a process of specific understanding, emotional relating, and focused interaction” (Altmann & Roth, 2013).
Objectives of the Study
In view of the above discussion, it is apparent that present pandemic crisis has dynamically transformed our work organization and accordingly, these new norms at the workplace are taking its toll on the employees. Most of the research studies highlight that one in two employees is in a state of psychological distress, suffering from low morale, loss of motivation and disengagement. The present study aims at finding out how did the leadership at the top globally use empathy as a prosocial skill to manage the mental well-being of their respective employees, keep them motivated and engaged for meaningful performance.
Empathy: A Multidimensional Phenomenon
Empathy is an important concept and well researched topic that has developed through the past century, along with disciplines such as psychology, philosophy, medicine, and neuroscience. From psychological and biological point of view, empathy is the basis of successful interpersonal relationship which makes it very significant for the welfare of both individuals and society, although, certain negative aspects of empathy also exist. Different studies pointed out different concepts of empathy and its definition, either affective or cognitive empathy, but integrating both components is crucial for understanding empathy as a whole. Some studies claim uncertainties are still present in understanding of the phenomenon, and empathy overlaps with some aspects of other similar phenomena like emotional contagion, sympathy and compassion. Hall and Schwartz (2018) found that empathy is viewed as a multidimensional concept divisible into dimensions, facets, factors, types, subscales, substrates, processes, aspects, etc. Thus, it becomes imperative to avoid using empathy in general terms for better understanding, instead it should be used as “the specific terms of dispositional empathy, empathic experience, and empathic process to specify which construct is being referred to” (Duan and Hill, 1996). First, some level of empathy (both as a need and as an expressed behavior) seems to be present in all people. Evolutionary psychology and leadership studies have shown that empathy provides a bedrock behavior for everyone (Illies et al., 2006) and that leader use of empathy in the workplace creates positive states in followers (Gillet, 2010; Owens & Hekman, 2012) and the leaders themselves (Boyatzis et al., 2006). From an evolutionary perspective, empathy provides a competitive advantage because it helps someone predict who he or she can trust, how to interact with that person, and who to avoid because of they pose a possible threat. It also provided a means for people to connect and develop networks of partners who could trust each other to cooperate in mutual survival (Bowles & Gintis, 2011; Dunbar, Barrett, & Lycett, 2005). Empathy—the expression of emotional support—also acted as a signal that someone was likely trustworthy and could be counted on to consider someone else’s best interests rather than merely her or his own (Dunbar et al., 2005; Wilson, 2000).
Main Components of Empathy
Renowned psychologist Goleman (1995) observed that empathy is one of the five key components of emotional intelligence—a vital leadership skill. It develops through three stages: cognitive empathy, emotional empathy and compassionate empathy that Paul Ekman refers as empathic concerns. An affective phenomenon (affective empathy), refers to the immediate experience of the emotions of the other person they are interacting with. Emotional empathy makes someone well-attuned to another person’s inner emotional world. It's not just a matter of knowing how someone feels, but of creating genuine rapport with them. Anyone leading a team will benefit from developing at least some emotional empathy. It helps to build trust between managers and team members, and to develop honesty and openness.
Second component is called cognitive empathy referring to the intellectual understanding of others experience. It essentially involves perspective-taking, which is the capacity to consider the world from another person’s point of view. It need not involve any emotional engagement by the observer. Managers may find cognitive empathy useful in understanding how their team members are feeling, and accordingly pitch their behaviour in such a way that ensure productivity.
A third view called Compassionate or Empathic concern that contains both affective and cognitive components is the kind of empathy that encourages people to act and is the motivation behind reducing the sufferings of another individual. It involves not only having concern for another person, and sharing their emotional pain, but also taking practical steps to reduce it.
Since, the main focus of the current study is to determine the empathic concerns of the leaders towards the well-being of their followers, therefore, the questionnaire so directed to the corporate were based on the Compassionate Empathy theory since a leader is required to display both the cognitive as well as affective empathic skills at the workplace along with related action to that effect to make empathy most valuable attribute.
Mental Health Well-Being
Over the years, the concept of mental health has continued to evolve. It implies a state of well-being in which the individual "can fulfil himself with his abilities, overcome the difficulties of everyday life, cope with stress" while making his positive contribution to his community. Good mental health affects our feelings, our emotions and can impact our lifestyle or even our relationship to work. There are several mental health theories, but they all come from one of five schools of thought. They are behaviourism, biological, psychodynamic, cognitive, and humanistic. Together, these five schools of thought that attempt to explain mental health are more appropriate for counsellors or therapists who take guidance and rely on them to a great extent for treating their respective clients who may be suffering from some serious mental health conditions. Consequently, these theories may not be of much help to the managers or the leaders in dealing with mental issues of the working professionals since their sole objective is to ensure the latter remain engaged and committed to job performance and will work on encouraging his motivation levels. Strictly speaking, they are not qualified to offer them any therapeutic cure except learn how to motivate them.
However, in recent years, there has been a shift toward studying employee well-being from the perspective of Self-Determination Theory (SDT) developed by Ryan and Deci (2000) since it generates some interesting insights about the work motivation. While there are many theories about work motivation and engagement, SDT is unique in its focus on the “relative strength of autonomous versus controlled motivation, rather than on the total amount of motivation” (Gagné & Deci, 2005). Although the overall amount of motivation is certainly a factor, it’s important not to lose sight of the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators; for example, SDT is correct in its assumption that extrinsic rewards are related to reduced intrinsic motivation. It refers to psychological needs, and prosocial impact on the employee. Self-determination theory (SDT) as developed by Ryan and Deci (2000) is based on the assumptions that human beings actively respond to their world, are naturally inclined toward growth and development, and have a set of basic psychological needs that are culturally universal. These innate needs include autonomy (sense of volition), competence (sense of efficacy), and social relatedness (sense of caring relationships). SDT theory posit that autonomy, competence, and relatedness are the primary supports for well-being and optimal functioning and their satisfaction is thought to be critical for human development and well-being. Social contexts that support the satisfaction of these needs facilitate intrinsic motivation and consequently natural growth processes. Contexts that interfere with them are associated with poorer motivation, performance, and well-being.
As the objective of the present study is to find out how the empathic leadership addressed the issue of their employees wellbeing to ensure positive functioning of employees, therefore, the question statements so posed to the corporate were based on self-determination theory (SDT).
Many research studies post COVID-19 consensually agree that majority of people have suffered from some mental health issue like loneliness, depression, or feeling of abandonment. Research studies during the initial phase of COVID-19 have reported that employees are urgently in need of accessible, equitable mental health benefits now more than ever (Mayer, 2020). Multiple reasons have been for their suffering and associated risk factors affecting mental health of employees can be summarized as in the Table 1.
Thus, it's time for leaders to rebuild the bonds with their employees that COVID-19 has shaken. Many business leaders are convinced that large-scale change is necessary to bounce back from difficult times. Display of empathic leadership during crisis has been proven to be a potential weapon to mitigate the impact of crisis to a great extent. As one of the variable used in this study is empathic leadership, substantial studies on the subject were found to be available in the literature, although most of these studies are dedicated to defining the conceptual understanding of empathy. However, there are some studies done focussing on empathic leadership and a few on the negative aspects of empathy. These studies are highlighted in the Tables 2, 3, 4 as given below.
It is evident from these studies that the construct of empathy is still open to many interpretations and definitions. There is no firm definition of empathy despite organizational interest in empathy. However, based on the cumulative interdisciplinary body of research on empathy, it is consensually agreed (except for few exceptions) by all that empathy is a multilevel construct having three distinct dimensions of empathy).
understanding another person’s internal state (cognitive empathy),
sharing another person’s affective state (affective empathy), and
behaviourally demonstrating that one has understood another person’s internal state and/or shared another person’s affective state (behavioural/compassionate empathy).
Thus it can be inferred from these varied definitions that empathy is a complex and multidimensional construct comprised of cognitive, affective, and behavioural dimensions, has been advanced as a critical predictor of prosocial behaviour and effectiveness in the workplace. Table 3 as given below highlights studies on leadership and empathy.
These studies attempt to define empathic leadership that is characterized by prosocial behaviour which is inclusive of expressing emotional support and concern for followers’ well-being. Besides, some, of the studies also indicate that empathic leadership influences performance through job satisfaction and innovative behaviour. Hence, to be a successful and an effective leader, empathy is rated as the most essential quality of the apex leadership.
Notwithstanding, these studies on negative aspects of empathy are small in number, but these do reflect another perspective that goes contrary to the popular and positive view of empathy. It is observed by these authors cited that an excessive use of empathic communication can at times lead to impair an individual and organizational performance and their judgement. It is noted that the jobs that require constant empathy can lead to “compassion fatigue. Thus emotional management of employees with empathy is simultaneously one of the greatest challenges and opportunities for leaders—at all levels—in the middle of any crisis. Empathic concern should be important to the point that its presence or absence makes or breaks organisational functions. As this study aims at investigating the top-down influence of manager empathy on employee well-being, the studies on the subject were not found in great numbers. This topic still needs to be explored in-depth as is evident from Table 5 given below.
The studies above substantiate that leaders should be aware that they have an essential role in managing positively the emotions of their teams especially when they are suffering from mental health issues and feeling low in spirit. Research suggests that empathy is positively related to well-being of employees. Hence, the authors opine that there should be a visible display of positive emotions at the work place to stir up positive behaviour from their employees, as negative emotions will trigger negative behaviour. Besides, these studies also reveal that empathic leaders will avoid controlling the behaviours of their employees, on the contrary they will give them creative freedom to perform their jobs, thereby, bolstering their confidence and belief in themselves. The empathic leadership, according to one of the study unravels support inclusive culture where each member of the team or department feels connected to other members and enjoys healthy relationship with his co-workers or boss.
Although the theme of exploring the relationship between compassionate empathic leadership and employee well-being has received attention from the researchers in recent times but, unfortunately there are not substantial studies available on the same. Again, as is evident from the literature that empathy may improve managerial effectiveness and employee well-being, therefore, this combination of themes acquires special importance and relevance in the present scenario especially after unprecedented crisis of the COVID-19 that has impacted the social-economic sectors and the industries badly world over. In view of its importance, not many studies are found exploring the theme of compassionate empathic leadership and employee well- being post the pandemic. There are few studies that touch upon employee well-being but it is explored in relation to occupational hazards, (Prasada et al., 2020); responsible leadership (meaning honesty, integrity, trust) and organizational sustainability (Hoque et al., 2020). There are a few more studies on leadership investigating leadership competencies (meaning sense maker; technology enabler; innovative communication, etc.) and the essential role of human resource development in times of crisis (Dirani et al., 2020). Thus, in the times of unprecedented crisis, the study on the topic of compassionate empathic leadership and the employee well-being is much required for the survival of an organization.
Design, Sampling, and Data Collection
As the study was qualitative in design, therefore, the data so collected to seek answers to the questions so raised was done through interviewing apex leadership from the corporate, representing different business segments from across the world. A questionnaire was prepared having 10 statements based on the theories of compassionate empathic leadership and employee well-being. The questionnaire was deliberately restricted to ten (10) statements only because of paucity of time and the busy schedules of the apex leadership who would be unwilling and reluctant to answer long list of questions. Nevertheless, it was ensured that these statements are complete in capturing all aspects of compassionate empathic theory and employee well-being. Initially twenty (20) c-suite executives from different sectors were approached telephonically as well as through e-mails seeking their participation in the said project. However, out of twenty, it was only seven of them who responded positively and showed their willingness to participate in the said project. These C-Suite executives were from diverse industrial backgrounds such as IT services, Knit dying manufacturing, real estates, food supply chain, telecom, petroleum and process industries. There were two major reasons for approaching corporate from different sectors and different geographical locations:
Since the COVID-19 pandemic has hit almost every sector of the economy all over the world. No single organization in the world could escape the impact of this outbreak. Therefore, the experience of this pandemic was globally common to all sectors and managements except it varied in terms of the severity of the impact. Thus the data so received from them will match the objective of the study
Secondly, it was difficult to get access to top leadership from one sector only and that too from domestic segment. Thus, in view of limited choices, it was decided to involve leadership from all economic sectors globally as it can give us a glimpse how leadership from different zones and sectors managed this unprecedented crisis. Though, it will not be appropriate to generalize and draw conclusions from the outcome of study based on these miniscule data. Nevertheless, at least it can give us some clue with respect to differences in the leadership styles from different geographical locations.
Once, the leadership from the said sectors were identified and they committed their partaking, a virtual meeting was arranged independently with each one of them where the objective of the study was explained to them. Additionally, before virtual meeting, the question statements were already emailed to them and in the V meeting, each question statement was explained to them in depth as to what each statement entails thereby ensuring that there is no gap in understanding the text or sub text of the statements. So, an oral validation of the questionnaire was sought from the target sample. Since, it was the initial and first wave of the COVID-19, all these leaders identified were deeply involved in the company affairs struggling to minimize the impact, expressed their inability to answer the questions in one sitting. They also expressed their desire to avoid the telephonic interview since they were not sure if they could justify the answers given in a short specific time. Subsequently, they requested that they be given time to think through the questions and respond in writing so that they do not miss out any details, if so, could be incorporated later, in the written document. Hence, they all responded by sending their replies in writing. The same is attached in the Annexure 1 in ESM. Thus, the primary data were drawn primarily from the structured interviews of the seven top leaders from the diverse industrial backgrounds as details are given below in Table 6.
Data Analysis and Discussion
The predominant themes that emerged from the cross analysis of the data as collected from the varied corporate heads are shown in Table 7 as below.
The following Figure 1 explains how during crisis, a combination of strategic communication and compassion empathic leadership will ensure the well-being of its people by granting them that sense of freedom to operate, encouraging in them a feeling of self-efficacy and most importantly connecting with them both at emotional as well as at cognitive levels that results in an engaged and motivated workforce that in turn translates into enhanced performance.
It is evident from the responses of varied apex leadership representing different sectors and different geographical locations that they have been completely knocked off the balance by this unexpected global economic disruption. The initial phase of COVID-19 has been chaotic for leaders grappling with an unpredictable business environment on one hand and concern for employee safety on the other hand. The abrupt shift for many companies from physical to virtual interaction unfolded many challenges for the management including the lack of infrastructure, deploying digital technologies, besides managing employees’ anxiety and distress related to job insecurity, financial loss or perception of safety. Although, both Medallia or Nokia (IE1; IE6, see annexure p. 1; p.8) has a flexible work culture and the digital and security infrastructure was already in place; a little scaling of that infrastructure made pivoting to a 100% Work-From-Home (WFH) workforce easy while as most of the companies have to struggle to update security and digital infrastructure. The inference from the data drawn however contradicts the findings of earlier studies that posits that strongly empathic leaders might “not make good leaders probably because they are unable to take a stand on difficult matters, are submissive, and put individual interests ahead of organizational interests’(Antonakis et al., 2009), while as the present study unravels that effective leaders draw upon their ability to identify and express emotions in order to better understand and influence their followers (compassionate empathy), to convey a compelling vision, to maintain excitement, and to promote interpersonal cooperation “ to make a visible impact with all our customers.”(IE5; see annexure pp. 6 & 7). Further, some studies that advocated “it is noted that the jobs that require constant empathy can lead to “compassion fatigue”—a state of emotional, mental, physical, and occupational exhaustion, draining one’s energy and cognitive resources “also stands rejected “Pandemic or not, this has been the way of life at OLA, hence no emotional fatigue was there for the leaders” (IE4; see annexure pp. 5 & 6). The findings of this study, in fact, strongly support that “emotionally expressive leaders were, in fact, more effective” (Groves, 2006:172). The study also unravels during this pandemic crisis, the studied leadership also realized that “a greater degree of empathy was needed as safety (health) and security (job) concerns were high among the employees (IE6; see annexure p. 8), hence they all shared” information in timely and accurate manner, through appropriate internal channels” (IE5; see annexure pp. 6 & 7), and “Various channels of formal and informal communication were used to keep everyone in good emotional state despite stressful times” (IE7; see annexure p. 10). Consequently, they” took multiple measures to reach out to our employees and allay their fears especially with regard to their losing jobs,” (IE3; see annexure p. 3); “as their jobs will not be impacted and these assurances keep directly from the top leadership (IE1, see annexure p.1) thereby, validating “managers need to send clear, precise and timely job instructions, communicate constructive feedback., and use multiple channels of communication …. will enhance job commitment and reduce the likelihood of employees leaving their organizations.” (Raina & Roebuck, 2016; Appelbaum, 2009). It was also found that the said leaders collectively believed that for continual improvements, “Developing competencies, embracing social purpose’ (IE4; see annexure pp. 5 & 6) and “Building capabilities within our teams, in our offerings, in our systems and in our partners. (Capability building) (IE1; IE5; see annexure p.1 & pp. 6 & 7) was required. “My challenge was to groom my team into presenting virtually (IE2; see annexure p. 2)”. They were assured their respective employees to carry on their personal and professional life, giving them that most valued sense of freedom to operate at their will. Besides, each company “During times of crisis…….it is crucial for everybody to stay connected and be engaged” (IE4; see annexure pp. 5 & 6)“, hence “Tools like Microsoft Teams, the Yammer, WhatsApp groups, yoga etc., were used to have social interactions by sharing their activities during lockdown with their colleagues” (IE1; IE4; IE7; IE5; see annexure pp. 1; 5 & 6; pp. 10 & 11; pp. 6 & 7). This sentiment is echoed in the study by Argenti (2002, p. 139). “Today’s employees do want high-tech and sophisticated communications, but they also want personal contact with their managers. Understanding this fact is the cornerstone of an effective internal communication system.”
Finally, inferences drawn from the data so received in the form of interviews indicate that all these leader’s/decision makers by adopting a compassionate empathic attitude, understood their employees’ needs for well-being, psychological safety, and engagement and thus gave primacy to their needs. They took all measures, in word and action to ensure both the physical safety as well as mental well-being of their employees. All the channels of communication were activated to keep them well informed and engaged. These testimonials directly from the apex leadership reiterate the fact that “a strong communication strategy is one of the pillars of success for an organization”. As IE-6 (see annexure p. 8) puts it “Our communication has not only been restricted to solving specific problems but also providing a larger context and perspective which has helped deliver exceptional results.” Right from providing unified Communication platform, to displaying empathic leadership, these apex leaderships unanimously believe that people are their best assets and if managed well in this crisis,’ we can come out successfully through this storm as stated by IE-7 (see annexure pp. 10 & 11. “Fortunately, our business is recovering faster than anticipated during the peak of the pandemic” (IE4; see annexure pp 5 & 6).
Thus, to stay profitable in the highly challenging and competitive global market economy, it is important to manage all factors at production including people, machines and materials. But managing manpower takes the precedence over everything. The present scenario demands of the leadership to place greater emphasis on building and maintaining relationships. Leaders today need to be more person focused and be aware of the needs and aspirations of each and every person working at the bottom of the pyramid. This study found that the ability to take genuine perspective and understand what others are feeling is a skill that clearly contributes to effective leadership, thereby, placing an even greater value on empathy as a leadership skill. The study also highlights a striking connection between empathy and performance. Besides, effective organizational communication plays an important role in this challenge as it is the channel through which information, instructions policies etc. are communicated. Leaders who create a transparent, positive and participative communication environment can impact operations and product improvement in very positive ways.
Key Theoretical Contributions
The insights gained from the inputs from top leaders further validates some of the theories as forwarded by earlier studies on leadership communication, compassionate empathic leadership and employee wellbeing and organizational performance. The insights of leaders across these companies unanimously confessed that “a strong communication strategy is one of the pillars of success for an organization”. This is echoed in large number of research studies in addition to Barrett (2006), Raina (2010), Jaskyte (2004), Walumbwa et al. (2005) who also endorse that effective leadership is all about communicating effectively responsively, frequently, honestly and timely, using multiple levels of communication backed by perfectly planned and dedicated communication policies give job satisfaction, builds trusts and encourage not only employees but other stake holders to trust their organizations. The present study also highlights that effective leaders draw upon their ability to identify and express emotions to better understand and influence followers, to convey a compelling vision, to maintain excitement, and to promote interpersonal cooperation the most vital trait for CEOs to manage organizational crisis, especially interpersonal relationships that are changed in new normal times, among many other qualities is empathy. This finding finds support in studies by Boin et al. (2005), Coombs (2015), Coombs and Holladay (2005), King (2007), Seeger (2006), Wooten and James (2008). It is said when crisis occurs in an organization, employees are prone to feel strong emotions such as anxiety, panic, and distress (James et al., 2011; Kayes, 2004; Smith & Ellsworth, 1985; Weick, 1990, 1993) and that leaders with greater empathy are better equipped to manage those who experience these emotions (Christianson et al., 2009; James et al., 2011; Kahn et al., 2013; Vuori & Huy, 2016).It has also been established in previous research articles that leadership involves a process of managing and influencing their subordinates’ feelings of frustration and feelings of optimism, which in turn influenced objective sales performance (Kock et al., 2019; McColl-Kennedy & Anderson, 2002; Pescosolido, 2002). The present case study also illustrates that it was emotional faculties and cognitive abilities oKukule (2012) in” Internal communication crisis and its impact on organization’s performance” cited that the importance of symmetry has been marked by Gruning and Hunt, describing symmetric communication as a source and a recipient which cannot be separated but are equal participants of a communication process seeking (striving for) mutual understanding and proportional two-way effect (Grunig & Grunig, 1989). The research work, carried out under the auspices of the paper, points at the lack of symmetric approach in internal communication, which is marked by the research participants (not representing the dominant coalition) as an important cause of the problem and of crisis in the organization. He opined that lack of leadership, unclear managerial style and incomprehension of employees’ need for information created a fundamental problem in the organization’s internal communication. Furthermore, the role of informal communication and “grape-vine telegraph” in an organization’s communication is viewed as one of crucial factors influencing organization’s operations and may become a threat to an organization. He further suggested that organizational crisis may not only be caused by external conditions which are difficult to control for an organization, but also by internal factors which are closely linked to communication problems in the organization. The task leadership that companies have been able to recover their businesses to a great extent.
Limitations and Future Scope
The major limitation of this study has been the small sample size. Therefore, it will not be appropriate to draw generalizations based on the insights from these leaders, though the outcome of the study gives us some glimpse how the leadership from different locations approached and addressed the COVID related problem of their respective employees’ well-being. Besides, the major limitation of the study has been the lack of scientific validation of the data. However, initially this study was conceived and developed as a perspective paper. The idea was to explore if the emotional support from the leadership can restore the confidence, sense of security and well-being among the followers. But, nevertheless, one can always take up a new study using larger sample size followed by content analysis or other related analysis to make the study more scientific. Another limitation of this study is that it did not include the employees’ point of view that could have provided their side of the story and also could have confirmed or negated the narrative as presented by the leaders in the study. The study throws open many new ideas or themes for future research like scope of the paper can be further enriched by adding on few more variables like performance, organizational culture, occupational hazards etc.
Key Questions Reflecting Real Life Applications
How does open, transparent vertical communication impacts the well-being of employees?
Can constant empathy lead to compassion fatigue?
Do emotionally expressive leaders promote interpersonal cooperation?
Does organizational culture that supports the well-being of its employees facilitate intrinsic motivation and effective performance?
How does effective organizational communication impact operations and product in a company?
Does timely and complete exchange of information between the senior and the subordinate generate trust between the two?
Is it true that leaders/managers need to pay special attention to the mental/physical well- being of their employees during crisis and ensure that they feel secure and safe?
Availability of data and materials
Available on request.
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The infrastructural support provided by the FORE School of Management, New Delhi, in completing this paper is gratefully acknowledged. The author extends her special thanks to all the corporate leaders who despite their busy schedules and heavy engagements took time to share (in writing) their valuable experiences and critical inputs during COVID-19. Besides, the author wishes to acknowledge all the reviewers including the editorial board of this esteemed journal whose constructive critique helped in improving the quality of the paper to a great extent. My special thanks to Dr. Sourabh Kulkarni who has been a great support and source of encouragement all along.
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Raina, R. Moving Crisis to Opportunities: A Corporate Perspective on the Impact of Compassionate Empathic Behaviour on the Well-Being of Employees. JGBC 17, 239–255 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42943-021-00040-w