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Leading With Empathy In The Workplace

By Garrick Thompson | First published: November 26, 2020    Updated: June 14, 2022

Post-pandemic, workplace culture is increasingly prioritized, with many successful businesses driven by empathetic, compassionate leadership that puts people first.

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed that one of the most important skills for vital leadership competency is empathy. It determines if leaders can move the business and organization forward during both good times and bad.

Creating a workplace that encourages empathy starts at the top. We’ve seen firsthand that an empathetic work culture - conscious awareness of the feelings of others and understanding their needs and motivations - has proven to be valuable to our organization throughout this crisis. And recent research has proven that empathy has become the most important leadership skill for shaping successful and inclusive workplace culture as well as driving business results.

When the pandemic first hit and strict quarantine regulations were imposed, FedEx immediately established a set of operating protocols to keep our team members safe. As an essential service provider, we remained operational and delivered essential shipments such as medicine, ventilators, and PPE.

Across Asia Pacific and globally, we have been faced with different situations unfolding in different markets, from full re-opening and relaxation of all restrictions to continued community isolation in places such as Shanghai and Beijing. Flexibility in how we deal with our team members – and where they work from – has been key.

What can you do – as a business owner and leader – for your employees, no matter what size of staff you are leading?
What can you do – as a business owner and leader – for your employees, no matter what size of staff you are leading?

1. Invest in relationships

It’s vital to take an interest in your colleagues beyond your professional obligations. Make the time to check in and see how they’re doing. There could be things going on in their personal lives that are hindering them from performing at work. These check-ins are key, especially at a time when some people continue to have difficulties adjusting to a new normal.

For employees working remotely, it’s critical to keep open channels of dialogue and foster a culture that encourages communication.
What can you do – as a business owner and leader – for your employees, no matter what size of staff you are leading?

Group of colleagues gather in office during meeting

The more you interact and build camaraderie with your team, the easier it will be to keep them motivated and engaged. For instance, running most of your team calls with video helps maintain rapport. Check on people who may be ‘hiding out’ to see if they need help.

2. Practice active listening

Active listening means hearing your team members’ questions and concerns without judgment. Great managers are good active listeners who, through their actions, let their team members know they are being understood. Stay focused on your colleague. Repeating back what you are hearing to make sure you understand helps your team member know you are really listening. Emotional intelligence can take you a long way in becoming an empathetic leader.

If direct interaction with your team members isn’t always possible, it’s good to have a feedback system where they can call or leave a message any time. FedEx has an ‘open door’ policy where anyone can meet with management at any level with comments, suggestions or questions. As leaders, we make ourselves available virtually on various platforms and invite our teams to reach out.
Aerial shot of colleagues having coffee at table

Ask yourself if your own unconscious bias is affecting your perceptions of other people or their performance.

3. Challenge your biases

Even the best leaders have biases. Unlearning them can be difficult as these are formed at an early age and reinforced throughout adulthood. While getting rid of our biases might be a long-term process, the first step is to be aware of what they are and how they affect our decisions. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is now at the very top of workplace agendas, so it’s no longer possible to be complacent or fail to speak up and challenge yourself and others

Ask yourself if your own unconscious bias is affecting your perceptions of other people or their performance. Colleagues from different generations may have different working styles or approaches to the same project or task. Dismissing or disregarding each other's opinions can lead to conflict and a tense, stressful working environment – which can be felt even in virtual audio and video calls! An open mind and awareness of such biases will allow teams to pivot and build better relationships.

As a global, multi-cultural company, FedEx makes a conscious effort to ensure DEI in our daily operations through policy, practices, services, and support programs. As a company, we strongly believe – and always have - that everyone deserves respect. Embracing diversity is part of who we are and what we do.

You can do it too. All it takes is a conscious effort from leadership to model the same level of respect for all employees regardless of gender, age, culture, interests or background. Practicing empathy starts from the top.

4. Make room for failure

At FedEx, we’ve never been averse to failure or taking risks. Fred Smith took a huge one when he pioneered overnight delivery services in the 1970s and disrupted an industry, creating the entire system from the ground up and not showing profit for the first two years.

Failure is a necessary step towards growth and innovation. Making this work, however, requires a culture of trust and empowerment. Team members must be encouraged to be honest, open with their ideas, and creative without fear of being mocked. Those who feel supported in this way are more likely to come up with solutions that will lead to business success.

In the new normal, with drastically reduced in-person time with your teams, managing with empathy is critical. You need to take a look within and really approach work relationships as a human. Remember, positive mental health is a direct driver of productivity. Empathetic leaders who consistently get the best results from their teams lead with compassion and put people first, day in, day out.

Are you looking for more tips from business leaders and FedEx insiders on how to grow your business and lead your teams better? Follow our LinkedIn page for insights from across the Asia Pacific region.
Ask yourself if your own unconscious bias is affecting your perceptions of other people or their performance.

About the Author
the author bio

Garrick Thompson

Managing Director,
Indonesia, FedEx Express

Garrick began his career with FedEx in New Zealand in 2007. Since then, he has held multiple roles in the Philippines, and now heads Indonesia operations overseeing corporate strategy. Garrick is based in Jakarta.

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