Leaders you need to do more. Some tough love is required and I’m here to give it to you!


I have some tough love for you this week – leaders you need to do more!

“More of what?”, I hear you ask. “I’m already up to pussy’s bow with work! I have no room.”

Leaders, these tough and crazy times are calling you to amp up your care for your employees. How can you do more to show you care?

There is so much research around that says leaders and managers aren’t doing a great job of this.

An article in Forbes (Behesheti, July 2022) reported that at the start of the pandemic employers had made a real effort to check in regularly with employees and show concern for their well-being. Leaders and managers realised that they could not disregard the impact of their employees’ personal situation on their work lives and that they needed to be treated as whole human beings.

“Accordingly, Gallup found that in May of 2020, the number of employees who felt strongly that their employer cared about their well-being shot up to 49%.”

However, as one of my clients wonderfully put it, there has been “post-Covid slippage” with this care.

Behesheti reported, “Two years later, however, that number has sunk below pre-pandemic levels and now stands at 24%—the lowest in almost a decade.What happened? Three possible explanations jump out. One, employers’ initial commitment to employee well-being was short-lived and lacking in follow-through. Two, everyone underestimated just how long a grind the pandemic would be. Three, there has been a fundamental shift in employee expectations, and many employers are failing to keep up.”

Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report (2022) found that the consequences of feeling uncared for, “reach beyond the absence of warm feelings — they include lower engagement, higher burnout and more employees looking for new job opportunities elsewhere. Business units with engaged workers have 23% higher profit compared with business units with miserable workers.

They found that teams that are most likely to feel their organisation cares about their wellbeing achieve higher customer engagement, profitability and productivity, lower turnover, and fewer safety incidents.”

For workers to thrive, they need to feel cared for.

Leaders – you need to cultivate more care in your daily practice.

Tough love quote

Listening and asking questions is the primary way for a cultivating leader to deal with fears or feelings and to show they care. How often are we too busy to listen or check in with someone? How often do we not take the time to understand another person’s perspective? How often do we invalidate others without knowing it?

Another study conducted by The Wellbeing Lab and George Mason University’s Centre for the Advancement of Well-Being found that when managers regularly expressed care, compassion, and appreciation, their workers’ were significantly more likely to report higher levels of wellbeing and performance.

Associate Professor Mandy O’Neill explained, “The more leaders express caring, compassion, and appreciation, the more engaged and productive workers are, and the lower their anxiety levels are likely to be. Unfortunately, the data also suggested that only one in every ten leaders do this regularly for their people.”

Microsoft’s annual 2021 Work Trend Index report warned that business leaders are ‘out of touch with employees and need a wake-up call’. The report found high levels of overwork and exhaustion among employees, but there was a major disconnect between their experience and their managers’. Some sixty-one per cent of business leaders say they are thriving. That’s twenty-three per cent more than their employees who have no decision-making authority. Leaders also report that they are building stronger relationships with colleagues and leadership, earning higher incomes and that they’re taking all, or more, of their allotted vacation days.

This tallies with Dr Michelle McQuaid’s research (2021) on well-being at work, which found that ‘workers in job roles with more autonomy (C-level, owners, directors) continued to be more likely to report they were consistently thriving, while those with less autonomy (e.g. unskilled workers) were more likely to be struggling.’ Also, ‘leaders were statistically more likely to report higher levels of well-being ability, motivation and psychological safety than their team members’.

A cultivating leader continually connects with their employees to stay grounded and listen to their issues – they actively try to keep the hierarchy open – from leaders to the front line and back again. They have empathy and try to stand in the shoes of their people.

One of my clients, a cultivating leader called Matt, talked about how easy it can be for leaders to lose touch with staff’s day-today lives and realities. He likened his team to the front line in battle. In the trenches, often in hand-to-hand combat, while people like him, further up the hierarchy, are removed, sitting in the comforts of the war room. He said that unless leaders are mindful and truly listen and understand staff experiences, they can forget what it is like to be in the trenches.

In his role, Matt might talk to company stakeholders directly twice a day, and his regional managers might take five calls a day. But the staff in the field, whose role is the direct liaison between the company and its suppliers, might be getting twenty to thirty calls a day, and they are out on farms visiting and talking to farmers directly.

That is OK when things are going well in the industry, but when they aren’t, with low prices and farmers in geographic areas dealing with events like floods or drought, his front-line staff are under relentless stress.

Another team that works in agriculture said their senior leaders were often dismissive of staff concerns. They invalidate them, think they are whinging and believe they need to be more resilient and just get on with things. This is empathy blockage, where the leaders aren’t seeking to stand in the shoes of their employees. They have any lost awareness that their employees’ experiences are different from theirs.

Dr McQuaid’s research also showed the profound impact that a leader’s behaviour has on the well-being and performance of employees. She found that if you have a leader who encourages you to look for new possibilities, role models this behaviour and can perceive the positive in situations, you are more likely to be more satisfied with your current life and have high well-being levels in the future.Having a leader who frequently expresses care, compassion and appreciation, increases your likelihood of:

  • higher well-being, job satisfaction and workplace commitment
  • thriving or living well despite the struggle
  • feeling and performing better at work.

On the flip side, Gallup (2021) found in the USA and Germany that employees with a lousy manager had worse well-being than unemployed people.

Dr McQuaid also said that leaders often thought they were doing an excellent job of checking in with staff, but staff wanted them to do it more often.

It’s really important to remember that today, we aren’t the same people who went home to work in early 2020.

“The past two years prompted many of us to review our priorities and how we navigate work, especially when flexibility and well-being become non-negotiables for our people,” says Lee Hui Li, managing director of Microsoft Singapore (Williams (2022) Leadership Out of Touch with Employee Expectations).

We need to be hyper-aware of how important checking in with each other is right now. This cannot be underestimated. People need to feel seen, valued and cared about. So we need to tell them!

Leaders – what you choose to do has a huge impact on the quality of life of your employees and their families. I cannot emphasise this strongly enough. That’s a big responsibility but, if you’re reading or listening to this, I know you’re up for it.

So… Tell your staff that they are doing a great job. Celebrate successes, especially the small wins. Notice and comment on the good things people are doing. Ask your staff and team mates how they are travelling. If someone has been away sick, get in touch and listen to then to understand their situation. And don’t send an email – call them!

As a leader, set an intent to do at least one thing every day to show care and connection with your staff. Don’t make it an occasional exercise. Remember, even if you think you’re showing care frequently, your staff don’t have the same perspective. Encourage a culture of care in your workplace.

Imagine if everyone made an effort to genuinely show care and appreciation to at least one other person every single day. Emotions are infectious. This simple act could transform our workplaces, especially in difficult times.

Instead of the saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”, we need to be saying, “When the going gets tough, leaders get caring.”

So here’s a moment of truth for you my friend, how are you doing with expressing care and concern for your staff? What can you do to raise the bar for yourself to be more of a Cultivating Leader?

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Cynthia Mahoney

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