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Leading During the Pandemic: Lessons for Productivity and Organisational Loyalty

By: Dr Elaine Garcia, Head of Academics at InteractivePro

For any manager, achieving great productivity whilst maintaining a happy and effective team can be a really important but difficult goal to realize in normal times. During the last year this would seem to be an impossible task as we have been faced with a pandemic during which workers have been far more remote and isolated than ever before. During such times it would seem that productivity and achieving organisational goals would be near impossible. It is therefore interesting to note that this has not necessarily been the case. 

The pandemic has in fact provided an opportunity for managers to redevelop their management style and consider how changes to the ways in which they manage their team can lead to greater productivity and effectiveness during this difficult time. The pandemic has also provided opportunities for managers to show that they truly reflect the core values, vision and goals of organisations where these relate, as many do, to supporting their workforce and providing a caring and flexible environment for employees.

One of the reasons this has occurred is due to the nature of the pandemic. The pandemic and the lockdowns that have been enforced across the world have resulted in a much greater need for flexibility amongst workers. This has not only related to where people undertake their work but also to issues of childcare during the working day as well as sickness due to COVID. As a result of these changes the need for managers to lead their teams with greater empathy, allowing more flexibility and support for workers, has been required.

Empathic leadership is a leadership style whereby managers think about the needs, thoughts and feelings of their employees and seek to react to the situations employees may find themselves in in a sensitive and compassionate way. Through greater empathetic leadership managers and employees have been able, through the pandemic, to build greater trust, resilience and relationships.

Improved relationships and the greater support and flexibility shown to employees will result in not only in increased productivity but also to greater commitment and loyalty from workers who feel managers have treated them well during a really difficult time.

Even where managers may not be typically empathic the need to quickly change working practices and in some cases, patterns have resulted in managers allowing employees to work in different ways and trust, to a much greater extent, that they are undertaking the activities they are required to do. Micro-managing tasks, as some managers may usually do, has therefore become far more difficult to do with teams being dispersed and working flexibly. The result of such measures is therefore likely to also build a greater sense of ownership of tasks and as a result greater commitment and productivity amongst workers.  

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On the whole it is reported that switching to home working, despite the difficulties of home life and work life coming, for some, uncomfortably close together, has resulted in higher levels of productivity. Working from home has enabled workers to maintain greater focus, concentration and, in many cases, work at times that are most suitable for them. The steps managers have, or may have been forced, to take such as reducing meetings and interruptions may also result in more focused work and as a result productivity.

Another key aspect of leadership which has been shown to be increasingly important through the pandemic is authenticity. Authentic leadership requires the relationships between leaders and workers to be honest, open and ethical. Undertaking an authentic leadership approach allows employees to see their leader as being genuine and once again empathetic. Whilst during the pandemic difficult business decisions may have had to have been made, an authentic leader will be as transparent as possible, clear and straight forward with others and ensure good communication is maintained when providing updates or news about the business. This is particularly important where organisational goals or plans may have changed, and the business, and its employees, are required to work in new and different ways. 

It is important to note, however, that authentic leaders will also typically focus on the long-term nature of organisational goals and will not alter the course of the business due to a specific situation or event unless they really need to. Many authentic leaders have therefore been able to weather the storm of the pandemic due to their ability to focus on the horizon of normality returning at some point in the not-too-distant future.  They are able to do this whilst also being clear and truthful with employees allowing them to also understand the plans for the future as well as the current difficulties the business may be facing. 

Both empathic and authentic leadership are ways in which leaders can inspire their workforce to be productive and achieve organisational goals. When employees feel listened to, communicated with, understood and appreciated they are far more likely to work harder and worry less about the future viability of their job and the business. They are also far more likely to understand organisational goals and want to work to meet these.

The pandemic has taught us much about the world and how we do business. One of the key lessons we must learn however is that the traditional office environment is not necessarily the best way for all of us to work at all times if we wish to be productive. By having empathetic and authentic leaders who continue to listen to the view of employees and embrace change in the most positive and transparent way it is possible that productivity can be raised, working practice can be improved and as a result organisational goals are truly something the whole organisation is working towards.

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