In 2020, as employers were grappling with the pandemic and renewed calls for racial justice, many responded with new policies and pronouncements. But according to a survey of nearly 7,000 employees in 14 countries around the globe conducted by Catalyst, more than two out of three employees (68%) believe their organization's coronavirus-related policies for the care and safety of their workers were not genuine. In White-majority countries, three-quarters of employees reported that their organization's racial equity policies were not genuine.
The report, Words Aren't Enough: The Risks of Performative Policies, shows that it's not enough to announce policies or issue statements. Organizations must follow through and take meaningful action. The data show that employees are savvy and recognize when company policies are merely performative—and when that is the conclusion they reach, there are consequences for organizations, including less engagement and intent to stay among employees.
"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," said Lorraine Hariton, Catalyst President & CEO. "When faced with the next unprecedented disruption, leaders must be able to address it with empathy and authentic, meaningful actions."
Most Employees Do Not View Covid-19 Policies as Genuine but Have Better Experiences at Work When They Do—Key Findings:
- More than two out of three employees (68%) reported that their organization's Covid-19 policies were not genuine.
- Employees who felt their organization'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.
- Employees who perceived their organization's Covid-19 policies as genuine and had empathic senior leaders experienced less burnout than others.
Most Employees Do Not View Racial Equity Policies as Genuine but Have Better Experiences at Work When They Do—Key Findings:
- Three-quarters (75%) of employees reported that their organization's racial equity policies were not genuine.
- Employees from marginalized racial and ethnic groups were less likely to view these policies as genuine (23%) than White employees (29%). Employees from marginalized racial and ethnic groups who felt their organization'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 organization's racial equity policies as genuine, leading to increased experiences of inclusion among employees from marginalized race and ethnic groups and increased engagement among women.
Report authors Tara Van Bommel, PhD, Kathrina Robotham, PhD, and Danielle M. Jackson, PhD, pinpoint leader empathy as a key determinant in whether employees perceived Covid-related and racial equity policies positively. 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 organizational benefits, according to the survey.
"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 report author 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."
This report, the third in Catalyst's series on Leveraging Disruption for Equity, lays out specific steps that CEOs and other senior leaders can take to be authentic and sincere by using empathy skills.
Catalyst surveyed 6,975 employees in 14 countries. Respondents were recruited through a panel service company. At the time of the survey, all respondents were full-time workers. After obtaining informed consent, respondents completed an online survey about "technology and work-life experiences." The survey took approximately 20 minutes to complete and included questions about their experiences at work and a demographics section. Catalyst used a variety of statistical analyses to understand the relationships between a respondent's perceptions of Covid-19 and racial equity policies, senior leader empathy, and employee outcomes.