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Empathy in the Workplace: A More Human Approach to Leadership

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Lori Christiansen

Lori Christiansen, Vice President of Marketing at Motus, joins our host, Camela Thompson, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Lori shares how COVID has impacted the way we work and lead, how to balance mental health and work, and the need for a more empathetic workplace and human connection.

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Lori Christiansen
Lori Christiansen

Based in Southeastern Wisconsin, Lori is the Vice President of Marketing at Motus.

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Full Podcast w/ Lori Christiansen

Workforce Flexibility & The Great Resignation

Lori is the Vice President of Marketing at Motus, a reimbursement software company focusing on vehicles and other employee assets necessary for completing their jobs. Motus is a work anywhere company, so working remotely is nothing new for Lori. But the ways in which COVID has reshaped the remote work environment is insurmountable–and in some ways unsustainable.

“Research shows us today why people are leaving some companies. And they are leaving, not because they’re looking for a better opportunity or money, they’re leaving because they want that flexibility.

“Motus was already a work anywhere company pre-COVID. We were allowed to work from home or work from anywhere, and COVID just accelerated it. This is how it’s going to be. We’re gonna get rid of our offices. And I think that people want that right now.”

Nearly half of the American workforce is currently working remotely. We swapped our commutes for an extra snooze or two on our alarm clocks, our offices for the corner of the breakfast table, and our colleagues for our pets and children.

“We say find your own balance. So, it’s no longer about work life balance. It’s really what your balance is and what my balance is. Working from anywhere allows you to do that."

Demand for a More Empathetic and Trusting Workplace

“People aren’t leaving their jobs for more money or a better opportunity. They’re leaving because they want to feel valued by their manager. They want to feel valued by their company. They want flexibility in their work schedules. I think they want caring and trusting teammates.

“They want to enjoy what they’re doing.

“We all know that if you get up every day and you’re not excited to go to work, you should find a new job. While money, title, and things like that play into job satisfaction, it’s really the people that I’m surrounded with and that I’m working with every day that keep me motivated. Wanting a sense of belonging and feeling connected to coworkers, I think, is why people are leaving their jobs.”

Social media, like LinkedIn, has become a place to have more candid discussions around the need for workforce flexibility and an empathetic workplace since the start of COVID. People are more open and honest about their experiences. Happy employees quickly become evangelists for company culture, and unhappy employees are more aware of advantages they don’t have.

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“In my past, it was like, this job’s pretty great. It’s good, you know? And it can’t possibly be any different anywhere else. And then you go get that next job, and you’re like, what? This is the way it’s supposed to be. I was missing out on all of these things. People aren’t willing to settle and are figuring out that it’s not all about the money.

“At Motus, we used to talk about how money should be in your top five, but not in your top three. Having connections, feeling valued–that should be what you’re looking for.”

When money does come into play is when you find out you’re being severely underpaid. It’s impossible to feel valued when you aren’t being paid fairly.

How to Create a Workplace Connection–With Professional Boundaries

Whether your paid time off (PTO) is limited to a set number of hours or days, or you’re working somewhere with an unlimited PTO policy, taking time off can be hard. There could be a lack of trust, poor examples set by leadership, a push back to in-person work, or a general feeling that employers want the company prioritized above everything else.

“As a leader, make sure that you’re leading by example. Take time off and don’t send emails after hours and on the weekends because people will start to feel like, ‘Well, Lori was on vacation with her family, but she was connected all the time. So if I go on vacation, I must have to be connected all the time.’

“As a leader, you have to be able to trust. It’s not a nine to five day. Maybe some people take a few hours off during the day for whatever reason, and you’re gonna log back on at night and you know, that’s okay. But if people feel that their managers or leaders are connected 24/7, then they feel like they have to be connected 24/7, and that’s not healthy.”

Recognizing the humanity of your colleagues can be as simple as connecting with them one-on-one and creating an empathetic workplace where employees can express themselves. But there are certain boundaries you’ll need to follow.

“As a manager, and even as a person, if someone asks me, ‘Hey, you seem a bit off today. What’s going on?’ You’re not gonna just puke it all out (whatever’s going on in your life), you know? Being somewhat open is good. You don’t have to give all the dirty details like you’re sitting in a psychologist’s office being like, ‘Here’s my session for today!’

“But I think it is important to be able to say I have some personal things going on in my life. And from a manager standpoint, it’s a fine line to make sure you’re not inserting yourself into their business by asking too many questions.

“It’s important to be open and honest and forthright with what’s going on in your life, but also not treating your manager or your employee, one way or the other, like they’re your hour session of the week.

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“I can honestly say that even with my team, it goes both ways. My team does a really great job of managing up. The same way that I ask them how things are going with them, they do that with me. It’s a back and forth thing. We’ve created that safe, empathetic work environment, but at the same time, we’re not getting into any nitty gritty details.

“If they’re struggling mentally because of the isolation or just because of the anxiety that they have at home, they’re going to not work as well or not perform as well at work. I think if people can talk about those things, your output altogether is better.”

The Importance of Connection & Empathy in the Workplace

Finding ways to connect with employees is key to making sure they feel valued. Along with balancing mental wellbeing and work, connection is also vital to having a happy and healthy workforce. At Motus, as Lori explains:

“We’ve done some really great things. Whether it’s been company-wide or just a virtual event, we’d all get a box. A delivery of flowers so we can take a virtual flower arrangement class. Group beer tasting, wine tasting–these are fun ways to build a sense of community.

“We also instituted that if someone is sick, we send them a soup care package. We’ve found different ways to connect with people even if we haven’t seen them in person in two years because we are remote.”

Working remotely has opened up new opportunities to see colleagues as more complex, three dimensional figures. Where a dog barking or a child crying would have once been an interruption, it’s now become a part of our work lives.

“I feel like we’ve been much more forgiving during COVID. It’s okay that we’re human. My kids were famous for walking in that door, coming in, and little did they know everybody could see them walking in.

“People thought it was great. They got to know me as a mom and got to know my kids. I feel like we’ve been able to connect in a way that we couldn’t connect if we were in an office every day.”

Not every day is perfect, good, or even just half-bad. Some work days straight up suck. And for a long time, it wasn’t okay to show emotion or empathy in the workplace, especially for women.

“Over the years, it has always been the same kind of advice. ‘This is how you could have handled that better.’ But this is me, you know what I mean? I’m not a different person when I walk into a room or sit behind the computer. What you see is what you get. So if you don’t like it, somebody out there will.

“I truly feel like throughout my career, my passion for what I do and how I operate has gotten me where I am today. I haven’t tried to fit in the box of ‘don’t show emotion.’

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“There are times when frustration gets to you, where you just need to have that moment. And that has happened in my career. And I still think that that’s okay. It’s the way people show and share versus going and hiding in a room.

“You know, as I get older and I have younger people on my team, I think it’s important for them to be able to see that it’s okay that you’re not perfect all the time. It’s okay to show emotion.”


For more on creating an empathetic workplace and incorporating a more balanced, humanistic approach to management, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.

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