Your workplace desperately needs this type of boss, researchers say—but only 1 in 4 employees have one

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The pandemic has changed a lot about the world, including what you may need from your boss to succeed. 

Mounting anxiety and stress — both at home and at work — since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic mean that, more than ever, employees need more empathy and flexibility from their bosses, according to Caitlin Duffy, director of research at consulting firm Gartner. The pandemic "has made their personal and professional lives fuse together," Duffy tells CNBC Make It.

Gartner has conducted extensive research on what employees expect from their managers now, over two years into the pandemic. After reviewing academic articles, surveying thousands of workers, and conducting interviews, Gartner found that it all boils down to a concept called "human leadership." 

It's a phrase that describes bosses who lead by showing empathy. They also adapt to meet the unique needs of their employees and enable self-expression to create a happier and more productive workplace, Duffy says.

Unfortunately, that type of boss is far from the norm. Just over 1 in 4 employees, 29%, say their supervisors are effective at human leadership, according to a 2022 Gartner survey.

That's a problem, Duffy says: The pandemic's emotional toll has created a "permanent change in the workforce" that requires the empathy and flexibility of human leadership. "Employees now expect leaders at work to address all of their personal needs that have become more complex and sensitive over the last few years," she adds.

And it's not just workers who benefit. Workplaces where supervisors show human leadership tend to have employees who are considerably more engaged with their work, leading to better overall performance, according to Gartner's research. The firm found improvements in employees' overall well-being, making it more likely that they remain with the company instead of looking for a new job.

"It not only affects employees themselves. It has a downstream impact on the business," Duffy says.

Whether you're looking for a more supportive boss — or you're a supervisor looking for ways to better serve your employees' needs — here are the three key qualities of human leadership, according to Duffy:


A boss who enables self-expression encourages you to be more real where you work. For example, an authentic manager might invite employees to share new ideas they might have with the team, or express feelings during tense social and political events that emerge in the world.

Your boss can ensure their employees are comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings by first opening up themselves. "Employees really want to be able to bring their full selves to work, and leaders need to invite them to do so," Duffy says. "It starts with leaders doing it first."


This kind of manager shows genuine care, respect, and concern for employees' well-being. 

Being an empathetic boss could look like recognizing your employees' hardships — both in and outside of work — whether that's burnout, mental health issues or a family emergency. It could also look like creating a safe space at work for them to talk about their personal problems and experiences. 


The last quality is adaptability, which means being a supervisor who provides flexibility to your employees, Duffy says. It involves understanding what each of your employees' unique needs are and supporting them in a way that's tailored to them. 

For example, an adaptive boss might give one employee more flexibility when it comes to working from home because they have to care for a sick family member. Or that boss might allow a different employee to take more breaks each work day if they've been experiencing mental exhaustion. 

"Employees want a personalized experience, and leaders have to adapt to that," Duffy says. "These qualities may have been important for leadership in the past, but they're non-negotiable today."

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