A Call for More Empathetic Leadership

Recovery from the COVID-19 lockdown has begun and hotels are addressing new cleaning processes and implementing social-distancing protocols. But what are hotel leadership teams doing to help returning employees adjust to new responsibilities and tasks? What about the psychological impact of going back to work after being isolated and possibly living in fear and uncertainty for the last 2 months?

Research indicates that being isolated can evoke a multitude of emotional responses that leaders need to be sensitive to as people begin to return to their jobs. If some members of the team are no longer with the organization due to lower occupancies, this means that not only will responsibilities change, requiring those remaining to pick up the slack, but they also may feel the psychological impact of survivors’ guilt or they might fear they will be the next to lose their job. All this leads to reduced productivity.

Customers are also asking hotels to consider new ways of operating such as reducing the number of employees they come in contact with to lessen their potential exposure to the virus. The one-stop-shop concept, where just one employee enters the guestroom —from room-service delivery to mini-bar review to housekeeping—means turning the traditional hotel structure and roles upside down. One way or another, employees in all areas of the hotel will be affected. Since change is often one of the most difficult ‘events’ to implement, is your leadership team prepared to execute the required changes in tasks and at the same time keep the organization moving and flowing?

A recent study by the Barrett Values Centre measured employee sentiment and saw a dramatic swing from the pre-COVID-19 focus on the customer and the bottom line to the post-COVID-19 environment where employees are requesting a greater focus on teamwork and collaboration. Returning employees are looking for a new experience and environment within a culture of cooperation, interdepartmental partnership, and cohesion.

Specific results for the hospitality industry showed employees were asking their leaders and colleagues to

  • show more concern for people in ways that include supporting employee needs
  • foster greater connection with fellow employees
  • develop new ways of working together and collaborating
  • inspire dedication in their workplace
  • redefine their purpose and contribution to society

This request for a greater focus on employees, rather than on the customer, reflects new values. In the past, where there was more of a silo mentality, leaders took care of their own department with a competitive perspective towards financial success.

The isolation imposed by the lockdown has made people realize the need for community, including at work, and the desire to make things better for society.

Accepting this, now what? How do you promote teamwork and collaboration in this time of social distancing? How do leaders tap into having deep empathy for each individual employee on their team? What can a leader do to bring these values into their department’s culture, and how can they engage with other departments to begin breaking down barriers to more cross-department collaboration?

It starts at the top. The most senior person in the organization—the general manger, in the case of a hotel—must first accept that, within a few short months, the entire psyche of their team has changed. From this point, division and department leaders must embrace this ‘new normal’ and practice empathy and compassion as key guides. And this practice won’t go amiss with guests, since they are feeling similar post-pandemic angst and frontline employees may experience guests’ lack of tolerance for mandatory service adjustments regardless of how much the guest is paying.

Shift the hotel priorities from meeting financial performance metrics to taking care of your team. This means responding to their need to support each other and build a community. Then dissolve barriers that get in the way of getting things done and enliven cross-department collaboration and teamwork. Practice empathy for employees and guests, and even develop a plan to contribute to your community for the greater good of everyone.


The financials for 2020 are a bust. Why not focus on the human side of the business, responding to the needs of your most valuable resource—those serving your guests? You will see a transformation in your employee-engagement scores, customer-satisfaction scores, and even a better bottom line than you were predicting.


"When you show deep empathy for others, their defensive energy goes down and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you get more creative in solving problems. "
Stephen Covey

Take the Next Step Now

Need help figuring out how to tap into the ‘new normal’ for your employees? Contact Jo-Anne to help you

  • learn how to practice empathy for leaders and employees
  • dissolve interdepartmental barriers to working together
  • increase collaboration and teamwork
  • improve employee engagement
  • get behind barriers that impede employee productivity
  • create a healthy organizational culture
  • turn all your employees into revenue drivers
  • engage a trusted advisor for consultation and recommendations

If you would like to hear more, simply reach out to Jo-Anne at
[email protected].

About Jo-Anne Hill

Jo-Anne is an industry expert who founded JH Hospitality Consulting to help hotels around the world dramatically improve revenue and profitability in creative ways. Her strategic thinking, skill, and practical approach to problem-solving come from hands-on experience at companies such as The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Mandarin-Oriental Hotel Group, Dorchester Collection, and Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts.

Jo-Anne's New Book Cultivating Leadership Buy Cultivating Leadership Book from Amazonnewsletter-footer.jpg

This email was sent to *|EMAIL|*
why did I get this? unsubscribe from this list update subscription preferences