The Empathy Revolution Revisited - where are we now?

Nearly four years ago, in the height of the first lockdown, we wrote about how the pandemic might just have been one of the best things to happen to employee engagement.

Coined ‘The Empathy Revolution’, it encompassed the (almost instantaneous) movement of employers, who were thrust into generational changes to ways of working overnight, with the introduction of home working, furlough and huge changes in IT infrastructure – leaving the spotlight firmly on employee wellbeing.

It’s fair to say that in the majority of cases, these changes were out of necessity, rather than intention. But as the impacts of revolutions are often more pronounced after the fact, how does the term stack up in 2024?


Employer-employee relationship

If we look at the numbers, 2020 certainly saw a dial-shift in the employer-employee relationship. Following the Covid outbreak, 95% of employees felt their leaders took ‘a sincere interest in [their] wellbeing and safety’ since the crisis outbreak, with 85% saying they ‘trust’ their leaders in the job they’re doing.*

While that might be true in the depths of lockdown, fast-forward to today and now half of people don’t feel listened to by their employer, with 44% of employees feeling like key topics such as pay and benefits aren’t communicated enough.**

It comes back to the notion of necessity over intention – and how willing organisations are to keep to the changes now they’re no longer essential.


Hybrid Working

The willingness of organisations is perhaps most clear when it comes to hybrid working. While it’s now seen as the ‘norm’ for millions of employees, many organisations are starting to question this.

According to a recent article in The Guardian,  two thirds of CEOs believe staff will return to the office five days a week by 2026 – many of whom also believe pay and promotions could become linked to workplace attendance.*** This will, and in some cases is, causing tension between employees – who have developed new ways of working habits over the last two or three years – and employers – many of whom are still trying to justify expensive office spaces which are less than half-full. Tension, I think, which may take years to resolve.

Moreover, a new generation are joining the workforce – those who have only ever known working life ‘after’ lockdown. Hundreds of thousands of people who expect flexibility in the workplace (where it’s a possibility), largely because they haven’t known anything different.


Organisational Change

That’s not to say that intent hasn’t remained in some areas though. We’re seeing companies revisiting their organisational purpose in the wake of change, questioning ‘why’ they’re here and ‘how’ their people play a role. Or developing their employee benefits offer to better-suit what their people need now, rather than in 2019 – like wellbeing funds, increased cover for friends and family and a greater focus on mental health. All of this is particularly important to those organisations who perhaps cannot offer the flexible working practices generated by the pandemic.

But if there’s one thing this does highlight, it’s that listening to your people beyond the initial crisis is more important than ever. We mustn’t forget to approach internal communications and employee wellbeing from the perspective of those most impacted.


And if we are calling the middle of 2020 an ‘Empathy Revolution’ (as I think we should), those who brazenly don’t believe it happened, think it was just a ‘blip’, or don’t realise its true value to organisational culture, may just become collateral damage to a wider movement.