Now is the Time to Show You Care

by: Mary Atchison, Yellow Wagon Leadership

I recently interviewed a key employee for a new client company. “Between you and me, I am looking for a new job with a different company,” he said. As I dug deeper, he said he was feeling very burned out and frustrated with his current position. He liked the work, but he was really disappointed in the leadership, and he wanted to work for a company that was more supportive.

In the past year, not only had he lost his father-in-law to COVID, but his wife had quit her job due to demands of taking care of their kids and dealing with their schooling. It was just too much. 

Over the past year his company had talked a lot about safety measures related to COVID, but not once had they taken the time to ask how he and his family were doing during this crisis. He felt hurt, and said he thought company leadership was uncaring.

Any leader would shudder to think they were in jeopardy of losing a key employee, especially in very competitive hiring industries like construction.

Turnover is costly—both in morale and money. 

Some workers remain at the same company for years, but that is becoming increasingly rare. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a 21.4% turnover rate in construction, making it one of the highest of all industries.

In a survey conducted by Buildforce, with 39 participants (all construction workers), nearly 50% of respondents said they would switch jobs for a pay increase of $1.00, $2.00, $3.00, $4.00 per hour regardless of lost benefits, and exactly 50% also said they would switch jobs for a one-time bonus payment of $250.

Truly caring about your team is a key way to turn this trend around.

Glassdoor reports that 96% of employees believe showing empathy is an important way to advance employee retention. And, 87% of employees expect their employer to support them in balancing work and personal commitments. 

Employees literally EXPECT employers to show how much they care!

Now is the time to begin having caring conversations with your teams.

Some leaders don’t know how to broach the subject of really asking how people are doing. Some leaders don’t believe it is appropriate to have those kinds of conversations at work. And, some leaders simply don’t care enough to ask.

Starting caring conversations can be simple.

If you don’t know how to broach the subject, choose a time when you are not distracted or in a hurry. You can say something as simple as “This last year has been hard on everybody. How has your family been impacted? How are you holding up?” A couple of simple questions can open up a deeper conversation that can help a person feel supported and understood. 

Another option is to pull your entire team together and facilitate a meeting that allows people to talk about what the last year has been like for each of them. You can celebrate your wins over this stressful past year, and also commiserate with those who have struggled. When done properly, this can be a strong team-building exercise.

Caring conversations are essential in the workplace.

Many business owners I speak with were trained in a ‘transactional’ employment model. This means “you work and I will pay you”. They have not experienced leaders who emphasize ‘caring for your people’ in the workplace. This can lead to a concern about coming off as ‘soft’ or ‘coddling’. 

The truth is, that employees expect their employers to care more than ever. When employers don’t show that they truly care, employees feel angry and hurt. They start to care more about not being cared about then about the work itself.

People want to feel connected, appreciated, seen, and respected. This is done through caring conversations that indicate to each person on your team or in your company that you know them, and you care about them and understand them as people.

Caring conversations are essential to employee loyalty and retention. 

Without caring conversations, you will see more and more turnover. Employees want to work for people who care about them as human beings first, and employees second. No one wants to feel like a tool someone is using to make themselves rich. 

When people feel cared about, they are happier, more engaged, more productive and more loyal. Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania management professor Adam Cobb sees employee loyalty as a reciprocal exchange. He finds that an employee’s loyalty to their firm is contingent on their firm’s loyalty to them. 

When people’s feelings are attended to in a caring and productive way, then they are freed up to attend to their work. They will feel recognized and respected. And CARED ABOUT.

It’s time to reach out to the people you work with and have a good conversation about how they are actually doing right now.

Given everything that has happened over the past year, there isn’t a better time to show you care.

Once you start having regular caring conversations, you begin to understand what each person really needs to feel supported. Here are some examples:

  • Due to child care or schooling issues, some employees may need some flexibility about when they begin their work day or when they have to leave work to pick up children. Providing this flexibility can help you retain a valued employee.
  • Some workers may need to cut back their hours temporarily to handle family responsibilities. Again, flexibility here can help you retain your team.
  • Strongly encouraging people to take their time off can help people feel like it is okay to take the time they need to recharge.
  • Asking your people for ideas about how to reduce the stress while still meeting deadlines, and then actually adopting those ideas will help team members feel heard and acknowledged.
  • Pull your team together--either all at once or in smaller groups--and have a facilitated conversation about how the past year and a half have impacted them, their families, and everything else in their lives (including their mental health). Just giving people a chance to talk and know that you are listening, and that you care, can make all the difference.

People expect more than a paycheck now. As leaders, plan on regularly having caring conversations with your team members. Taking the time and making it a priority to ask how each person is doing can literally change your company’s culture. 

Mary Atchison, of Yellow Wagon Leadership, is an expert leadership coach and organizational consultant with 30 years of experience strengthening organizations. She can be reached at or