Covid-19 and the Lesson of Leading with Empathy

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Leaders in governments around the world are differentiating themselves. Some are exhibiting great strength and thoughtful best practices, and so too are some corporate leaders. I’d like to call out some outstanding examples of doing the right thing.

First, there’s Apple’s early decision to close its retail stores outside China and send employees home confident they’d receive full pay and benefits during this time of enormous fear and uncertainly. This demonstrated a clear concern for the health of their customers, and of their employees. By keeping their employees at home—not laid off or furloughed—Apple will be ready to meet the surge of customers needing assistance when the stores reopen. I understand the company is testing new processes to enable some employees to help customers while working from home with remote technologies.  

Kudos to the other retail chains like Patagonia, which closed all of its stores and website in mid-March without being forced by governments to do so. And I especially want to recognize the many small business owners who made the same good decision, but with a far, far smaller cash cushion to rely on.

In addition to closing outlets when necessary and sending employees to work from home, there are other important steps leaders can take. A recent Fortune article highlighted Unilever CEO Alan Jope’s promise to protect its workforce for up to three months, covering not only employees, but also full- and part-time contractors and others who are managed by Unilever or work on its sites. The article also noted Hilton’s efforts to connect workers from temporarily closed hotels with hundreds of thousands of short-term jobs at companies such as Albertsons and Amazon. 

In the nonprofit world, arts organizations are finding ways to support their gig economy contributors. I sit on the board of vocal ensemble Skylark, which is trying to help its artists, all freelancers, get through both this crisis and the fact that their paychecks have vanished. Skylark doesn’t itself have the resources to help, so it’s mobilizing donors through an artist fund and by explaining the budgeting challenges faced by freelancers right now.  

For every leader who believes that earning the loyalty of their customers and employees is vital to long-term success, this is the time to show those true colors.  

What you do today, how you treat your employees, the empathy in the messages you send to your customers: that will be what everyone remembers when this crisis begins to abate and we move into a postcoronavirus world, whenever that may be. 

Related Insights


As the COVID-19 virus spreads and the human cost rises, the sizeable economic impact of the pandemic is only starting to become apparent. But companies that provide reassurance and support to anxious customers and employees could minimize the damage to their businesses. 

For more on communicating with customers and employees in this complicated time, my Bain & Company colleagues Rob Markey and Maureen Burns have written a useful piece, Customers and Employees Need Your Empathy, worth a read. 


Want to continue the conversation?

We offer unparalleled analytic and organizational tools for the Net Promoter System. Together, we can create an enduring customer-centric culture.