Is empathy the key to less workplace anxiety and absenteeism?

failure, stressed woman, female leader, burnoutAs the working world continues to turn on a pandemic led axis, we are seeing predictions of the greatest crash of human mental health in recent history.

The problematic reality of our times is that underlying the ongoing trauma of our locked down day to day is a far deeper sense of shift and discomfort that is impacting our working environment. Our flailing confidence. Something that human beings rely on to thrive.

In recent months, as we have lost our sense of perceived control, hundreds of thousands of our employees find themselves reeling at an emotional crossroad. Alone, segregated, and bored, these realities are impacting our ability to stay motivated and driven in the ways we once were. We are seeing our ability to focus, our ability to stay on track and indeed our ability to turn up all dwindling as the weeks pass by. We have seen anxiety levels fly upwards as we continue to feel locked away in our homes and according to the recent O.C. Tanner’s 2021 Global Culture Report, which surveyed 40,000 employees and leaders across the world including over 1,600 from the UK, Covid has driven burn out rates up by 81%. The research supports O.C. Tanner’s vision to encourage more companies to ease the pressures on workers and put a focus on their wellbeing given the mass pandemic-related anxiety we are suffering from.

Burnout was a growing issue pre-pandemic and is now spiralling as a result of COVID”, says Robert Ordever, Managing Director of workplace culture expert, O.C. Tanner Europe. “Workers have been dealing with the immense emotional, social and financial challenges brought about by the COVID-19 fallout and so many will be suffering from anxiety at best and severe burnout at worst.”

So are higher levels of empathy part of the solve?

As human beings it is our mutual connectivity and understanding, our empathy for each other, that has allowed us to prosper throughout civilisation. As human beings we do far better when we are cohesive as a team or tribe than when we are segregated. Our innate need as humans to be connected to others fuels so much of our cognitive strength. Consider the worst of the world’s penalties for law breakers, solitary confinement. It is well documented that being alone, segregated and separated from other humans is quite literally the worst punishment we can be submitted to. Our locked downs lives can be argued to not be  far from this dramatized reality.

Today we are overtly seeing the need and the demand for emotional wellbeing support in the workplace at higher levels than ever before and a desperate need from employees to feel understood and supported. If there was ever a time for HR and leadership teams to shine and prove their organisation culture it is now. Seeing people for their own unique circumstances has become the need of the hour. Understanding and empathising with the realities of each team member is no easy feat but it one we need to find scale in. Regenerating trust and conversation via open and empathetic communication will be a key differentiator in those that thrive in the months immediately after the return to the office. In fact today it may simply be the table stakes to keep your team together until that time arrives.

Research indicates that being able to use empathy is crucial for our mental health and adds immeasurably to relationship success and happiness. As we face many more months of disruption. and people’s fears of “never seeing the end” deepen, executive teams must search for multiple forms of shared understanding, organisational empathy, if they are to create the foundations for recovery.

On a micro level, empathy will allow us to better co-exist with our colleagues and teams, providing a more collaborative and connected environment that can perform in the months ahead. On a macro social level, where we increasingly see a disregard toward truly connecting as people first and foremost, the strengthening of our shared empathy is both urgent and critical as the world struggles to overcome the traumas of the past twelve months. Empathy is a perspective shift and it is one that the CEO of every organisations needs to embrace before our organisation loses perspective – and attendance from our teams – altogether.

Mimi NicklinAbout the author

Mimi Nicklin is a globally recognised millennial thought-leader. She is host of the Empathy for Breakfast show, Secrets of The Gap podcast and author of new book Softening the Edge out now priced £10.95. For more information go to


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