On World Mental Health Day, October 10, 2021, Manah Wellness is bringing together experts to discuss how inequalities in mental healthcare access can be corrected. Register for the free event here: http://www.manahwellness.com/wmhd

The last two years have seen the debunking of numerous myths about the workplace. Offices are still not full of staff, but arguably, the work’s still getting done. Conference calls are surviving interruptions by children, pets and kitchen noises. Business growth has slowed down, but individual productivity seems to be up. With so many assumptions being challenged, it may also be time to reassess the kind of leadership this new workplace demands. In the current environment, is it better for leaders to be rigid and pushy, or should they focus on being more humane and trust their employees to deliver?

That question has already been answered by many employers across India who are rolling out measures to increase solidarity, empathy and kindness at the workplace. A well-known Auto giant has declared that despite its losses, it won’t slash jobs or wages. A hospitality company is encouraging people not to work on weekends. A diversified Indian MNC has asked its leaders to be tolerant of mistakes and rise to the cause of humanity. Others are setting up employee helplines or offering meditation classes, paid leaves, etc. These measures are aimed at assuaging the fears and doubts of employees who are beleaguered by salary cuts, overwork, depression, anxiety, and uncertainty about the future.

Here’s how you, too, can usher in a culture of humane leadership at your firm.

See the person behind the colleague: Your colleagues are not just robots or software codes churning out information in return for a monthly salary. They are parents, young graduates, or older adults with very different backgrounds, goals and aspirations. Understanding how the pandemic has affected their lives, how they’ve been coping with recent changes at the workplace, and what motivates them can help you connect with each individual at a much deeper level. It takes the manager-subordinate relationship from being purely transactional to being one based on mutual understanding and trust.

Honour your commitments: For most businesses, the disruption caused by the pandemic has resulted in strategies and plans being thrown out of the window. However, leaders should try their utmost to honour their prior commitments regarding promotions, job roles, incentives, training, etc. It may not be easy —  but that’s what leadership is really about. When employees are expected to fulfil their duties to the letter, it is also incumbent on organisations to do the same. Honouring your commitments not only conveys a picture of relative normalcy; it reassures your team that you’re on their side through the crisis.

Default to empathy and trust: Despite all the teleconferences and emails, most remote teams are working blind. It’s never really possible for leaders to check up on every colleague every minute of the day. In a high-pressure situation, this could lead to misunderstandings or a feeling that a certain person isn’t ‘pulling their weight’. A humane leader, however, defaults to empathy and trust rather than suspicion or cynicism. Assuming the best-case scenario — that somebody had a genuine reason for skipping a call or not sending a report on time — is far better for workplace relations and team morale.

Lead by example: Walking the talk on workplace values is very important because your subordinates are always taking their cues from you. Do you communicate clearly and transparently? Are you patient and empathetic with your colleagues? Do you stress the importance of getting enough sleep, having a work-life balance, and protecting your mental health? Are you accessible when your people need you? If the answer to these questions is yes, then chances are that you’re not just becoming a better leader; you’re contributing towards building a better workplace culture as well.

Building a compassionate culture is not just about ticking off items from a checklist of ‘feel good’ initiatives. It is about revisiting the fundamental employer-employee relationship and acknowledging that — at least for the moment — it’s more about the latter than the former.