In 2020, as employers were grappling with the pandemic and renewed calls for racial justice, many responded with new policies and pronouncements. However, recent research shows it's not enough for organisations to merely announce policies or issue statements, and they must follow through for meaningful action.
More than two out of three employees (68%) believe their organisation's coronavirus-related policies for the care and safety of their workers were not genuine and in white-majority countries, three-quarters (75%) of employees reported that their organisation's racial-equity policies were not genuine, reveals a survey conducted by Catalyst, a global non-profit supported by many of the world's most powerful CEOs and leading companies to help build workplaces that work for women.
Employees from marginalised racial and ethnic groups were less likely to view these policies as genuine (23%) than White employees (29%).
The report, 'Words Aren't Enough: The Risks of Performative Policies', surveyed nearly 7,000 employees in 14 countries around the world and found that employees are savvy and recognise when company policies are merely performative -- and when that is the conclusion they reach, there are consequences for organisations, including less engagement and intent to stay among them.
"This report is a wake-up call for CEOs and other senior leaders at a time when employers are still facing high turnover due to the Great Resignation. When faced with the next unprecedented disruption, leaders must be able to address it with empathy and authentic, meaningful actions," said Lorraine Hariton, Catalyst President and CEO.
While most employees don’t view Covid-19 and racial equity policies genuine, they have better experiences at work when they do.
Employees, who felt their organisation's Covid-19 policies were genuine, experience more inclusion, engagement, feelings of respect and value for their life circumstances, ability to balance life-work demands, and intent to stay, says the survey. Those, who perceived their organisation's Covid-19 policies as genuine and had empathic senior leaders, experienced less burnout than others.
Similarly, employees from marginalised racial and ethnic groups, who felt their organisation's racial equity policies were genuine, experienced more inclusion, engagement, feelings of respect and value for their life circumstances, ability to balance life-work demands, and intent to stay.
Greater empathy from senior leaders was associated with increased perceptions of their organisation's racial equity policies as genuine, leading to increased experiences of inclusion among employees from marginalised race and ethnic groups and increased engagement among women.
Leader empathy is a key determinant in whether employees perceived Covid-related and racial equity policies positively, note report authors Tara Van Bommel, Kathrina Robotham, and Danielle M Jackson.
According to the survey, leaders who use their empathy skills are better able to create and communicate an authentic, equitable vision for the future and reap the employee and organisational benefits.
"We are amid a paradigm shift that compels companies and leaders to take a stand on the defining social and environmental issues of our time," said Van Bommel, who leads Catalyst's research on women and the future of work.
"Empathy is a vital skill—one that can be learned, developed, and strengthened, and when CEOs and other senior leaders are empathic with employees, they are able to address employee priorities in a vision that will bring deep change and success to everyone."