Kindred Advisor Hans Kohler Shares Three Lessons for Demonstrating Employee Solidarity

In times of crisis, how a leader steps up to demonstrate employee solidarity will significantly impact employee morale in an inclusive and equitable workplace.

With the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant, the prevalence of environmental disasters, and the rise of social and political conflicts, employees today face varying degrees of stress and trauma. These large-scale crises have a profound personal and professional effect on a diverse array of employees. According to McKinsey, “landscape-scale crises can also create mass-scale trauma responses, as collective fears and existential threats disrupt equilibrium and social isolation weakens bonds that normally provide emotional support.” 

When employees respond to external sources of stress, they can look to leadership for personal support. They also rely on company leaders to provide clarity around how similar stressors impact leaders on a professional level. Compassionate and empathetic leadership will enable executives to appropriately support employees of all backgrounds during times of difficulty.

However, leading with compassion and demonstrating employee solidarity is not always easy for leaders, who can struggle to understand the right thing to do, says Hans Kohler (conflict resolution specialist, ombuds, facilitator, and mediator). Kohler works with executive leaders on conflict resolution, effective communication strategies, relationship strengthening, and trust building. He provides guidance to Kindred members through Advisory, a new member benefit that provides leaders with one-on-one leadership coaching on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) topics, including DE&I and workplace wellness.

The Trust Factor

According to Kohler, establishing trust between leaders and employees is an important factor in demonstrating employee solidarity. Trust deficits often exist, particularly for BIPOC employees. For instance, in a 2020 McKinsey report on race in the workplace, Black employees were 39 percent less likely than their white colleagues to believe the company’s DE&I programs are effective. 

The lack of trust in leadership also affects how BIPOC employees respond to offers for help, especially when employees must make the first move to reach out to leadership. Kohler emphasizes the importance of diversity and cultural sensitivity in leadership when it comes to understanding the impact of large-scale traumatic events, navigating civil unrest targeted at underrepresented groups, and managing the nuances of how employees from different backgrounds may respond to leadership efforts to help. Compassionate leaders approach difficult situations as people first, which builds trust with employees. 

As companies take steps to create safe and equitable workplaces, leading with compassion will go a long way toward demonstrating employee solidarity and providing support during conflicts. 

Three Ways to Show Employee Solidarity

  1. Watch for toxic positivity. In the wake of a crisis, leaders should acknowledge the difficulties diverse employees may be facing and provide safe spaces for employees to share. Kohler recommends that leaders be courageous in showing vulnerability and let employees lead when they feel comfortable sharing. However, leaders should be wary about discrediting or trivializing the lived experiences of others. “When someone shares a struggle or concern, acknowledge the emotion they are feeling, thank them, and keep your responses focused on that person and their lived experiences,” Kohler says.
  2. Understand the difference between empathy, sympathy, and compassion. Sympathy, empathy, and compassion are each expressed in different ways and have varying levels of impact. Where sympathy is one-directional and focused on an individual’s feeling toward another, empathy tends to focus on experience. However, while empathy may lead to stronger feelings, it doesn’t always lead to action. A compassionate response involves listening, understanding, and taking action to change the situation. “Creating an open and authentic workplace requires leaders who understand and exercise all three,” he notes. 
  3. Tap licensed therapists for open forums. Providing open spaces for dialogue among employees can create opportunities for learning and understanding, and foster a sense of inclusivity and belonging. Tapping experts to facilitate these sessions is crucial to ensure everyone respects each other’s boundaries. However, Kohler notes that even mediators run the risk of re-traumatizing employees by overstepping boundaries or unnecessarily exposing them to triggers. Instead, he recommends turning to a licensed therapist when necessary to support employees through trauma. “A licensed therapist will turn sharing emotions and trauma into an opportunity for healing,” he says. 

Kindred members can learn more about leading with compassion from Hans Kohler by booking a one-on-one Advisory session. Kohler is also available to coach on topics such as conflict resolution and strategic communication. Not a member? Learn more about Advisory and other benefits of Kindred membership. 

Urey Onuoha

Published on August 19, 2021