Earlier this week, I wrote about a new study from anonymous corporate social network service Blind that found two-thirds of employees believe work from home orders and the broader pandemic were having a negative impact on their mental health.
In the study, which included responses from 10,000 office workers around the U.S., Blind found that employees feel alone and it's impacting their professional and personal lives. One Microsoft employee cited in the interview offered a chilling illustration of the pandemic's impact: "the extended working hours and no line between home and work are certainly hurting."
Those realities have made leadership in the business world ever more important. Employees, looking to their leaders for guidance and insight, want to know they're being heard. And they want to know someone cares.
Enter Tim Cook
Over the last several years, Apple CEO Tim Cook has been among the world's top business leaders. He's also used his position to promote a focus on empathy in managing the company that, especially now, all entrepreneurs and business owners should implement.
For years, Cook has urged empathy. In 2016, when political divisions were at their height, Cook wrote a memo to employees asking them to work together and respect each other, despite their political differences.
"Regardless of which candidate each of us supported as individuals, the only way to move forward is to move forward together," Cook wrote at the time.
In 2017, Cook spoke to MIT graduates, where he urged them to think about their place in the world and how they can improve humanity.
"When you work towards something greater than yourself, you find meaning, you find purpose," he said. "So the question I hope you will carry forward from here is how will you serve humanity."
Earlier this year after the tragic death of George Floyd, Cook once again shared his empathic side with his employees, saying Apple can, and should, do more.
"I have heard from so many of you that you feel afraid -- afraid in your communities, afraid in your daily lives, and, most cruelly of all, afraid in your own skin," Cook wrote to employees. "At Apple, our mission has and always will be to create technology that empowers people to change the world for the better. We've always drawn strength from our diversity, welcomed people from every walk of life to our stores around the world, and strived to build an Apple that is inclusive of everyone...But together, we must do more."
Empathy, which is the ability to understand and share feelings others are experiencing, isn't always discussed in the framework of business but it should be.
Employees are struggling with a pandemic and as Cook pointed out, the racial injustices some are experiencing. Business leaders need to keep that in mind and continue to have an open dialogue with employees to ensure they're being heard, their concerns are understood, and they're ultimately being treated in ways that make clear the company cares.
Business leaders at companies of all sizes taken on a variety of roles. And although Cook may have a bigger platform than most, no matter your company size, you must convey to employees that you hear them, understand them, and care about them. You then need to prove it in all of your and your company's actions.
In 2020 and beyond, the companies that are most empathic and willing to listen to their employees will be able to attract and retain the best talent and ultimately improve their brand among customers. Most of all, they'll have an important and measurable societal impact. And that matters greatly.