Keystone Partners Study Finds Nearly One Third of American Workers Feel Senior Management Is Out of Touch with the Impact of COVID-19 on the Lives of Employees

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National Research Finds Gaps in Transparency and Communication Between the C-suite, Middle Management and Employees

COVID-19 turned the lives of American workers upside down – from massive layoffs to an acceleration of remote work – the need for job security and the importance of strong leadership skills has never been more top of mind. The pandemic has shined a spotlight on the disconnect between workers and their companies’ senior leaders. Close to one-third of the American workforce feels senior management is out of touch with employees’ daily lives, according to a national survey, commissioned by leading leadership development firm Keystone Partners, a founding partner of Career Partners International. In order for employees to remain motivated in the new normal, senior leaders need to commit to clear communication plans and management styles, while remaining empathetic and transparent about company goals and employee wellbeing.

Similarly, about one-quarter of the American workforce feels that senior management lacks compassion and affinity and approximately one-third of workers feel disrespected or treated unfairly. Senior management also receives relatively low marks for offering support and flexibility during the global health pandemic.

“COVID-19 put corporate leadership to the test. In a volatile economy, and job insecurity against the backdrop of a major global health crisis, employees really looked to their company’s leadership to offer empathy, flexibility and compassion, as well as a clear path forward," says Elaine Varelas, Managing Partner, Keystone Partners. “The results of this survey clearly remind senior leaders that their actions and words impact their employees’ physical and mental well-being, job performance, and ultimately the company’s reputation post COVID-19.”

Chicago Management Teams Show Major Inconsistencies

Chicago workers said that their managers are less effective at managing their teams through the pandemic; when compared to employees nationally, they received lower scores on:

  • Communicating a plan for vaccination (Chicago: 48% vs. U.S.: 60%)
  • Showing concern for overall wellbeing (Chicago: 59% vs. U.S.: 64%)
  • Transparency of overall plans for the business (Chicago: 51% vs. U.S.:61%)
  • Communicating transparently about the impact of the pandemic on the business (Chicago: 54% vs. U.S.: 62%)
  • Clear post-pandemic business plan (Chicago: 54% vs. U.S.: 61%)

However, leaders at companies based in Chicago have made strides, and are more like to:

  • Have expanded employee benefits (Chicago: 20% vs. U.S.:17%)
  • More likely to provide emotional support (Chicago: 31% vs. U.S.:20%), and resources for depression (Chicago: 21% vs. 17%) and addiction (Chicago: 21% vs. U.S.:14%)
  • More likely to provide flexible schedules (Chicago: 44% vs. U.S.:36%) and onsite childcare (Chicago: 17% vs. U.S.: 11%)

“Chicago leaders have done a great job putting programs in place to support their employees during the pandemic. Despite this, employees expressed some concerns as evidenced by lower marks than the national average when it comes to communicating the true impact of the pandemic on the business and post-pandemic plans,” says Howard Seidel, Senior Partner at Essex Partners, a division of Keystone Partners. “Leaders across the country are operating under a variety of circumstances including local economic conditions and state edicts. What is clear is that employees are looking for organizations to lead with empathy, communicate concern for their well-being, and provide a clear business plan for, and as they navigate through, the pandemic.”

In Spite of Challenges Faced by Boston Businesses, Management is Rated Strong in Handling Employee Relations During Pandemic

Compared to the overall national workforce, Boston employees are nearly twice as likely to report negative impacts on business due to the pandemic vs. the national average (Boston: 22%, U.S.:14%), yet management in the city is excelling in employee relations, scoring relatively high on:

  • Transparency of communications (Boston: 68% vs. U.S.: 61%), consistency of message (Boston: 77% vs. U.S.: 69%), and ensuring safety (Boston: 83% vs. U.S.: 73%)
  • Instilling confidence in leadership during the pandemic (Boston: 77% vs. U.S.: 66%)
  • Regularly monitoring emotional wellbeing (Boston: 54% vs. U.S.: 47%), as well as showing compassion in communications (Boston: 78% vs. U.S.: 74%)
  • Providing online channels for communication with leadership (Boston: 48% vs. U.S.: 41%) & providing a means for all employees to communicate with management (Boston: 59% vs. U.S.: 50%)
  • Providing Employee Assistance Programs (Boston: 48% vs. U.S.: 29%), flexible schedules (Boston: 44% vs. U.S.: 36%), and paid family leave (Boston: 42% vs. U.S.: 36%)

“Boston-based executives scored high marks for their leadership during the pandemic. When faced with adversity they rose to the occasion, instilling confidence, transparency, and leading with awareness. It will be important for management teams to continue to showcase this leadership during the recovery period, particularly if layoffs are necessary,” says Elaine Varelas, Managing Partner of Keystone Partners.

Raleigh-Durham Management Scored Low Marks by Employees for Leadership in General and Particularly During Pandemic

Management in the Raleigh-Durham (“R-D”) region scored lower than the national average when looking at employee confidence in leadership (R-D: 58% vs. U.S.: 66%) and consistency of communications (R-D: 63% vs. U.S.: 69%) during the pandemic. R-D leadership scored higher rates of insensitivity in communications (R-D: 30% vs. U.S.: 26%), as well as lower scores on:

  • Treating employees with dignity/respect (R-D: 64% vs. U.S.: 69%), and fairly/equally (R-D: 59% vs. U.S.: 65%)
  • Offering flexibility (R-D: 56% vs. U.S.: 62%), and supporting needs of families (R-D: 61% vs. U.S.: 66%)
  • Making good decisions to keep employees safe (R-D: 61% vs. U.S.: 69%).

Buck Rogers, Vice President at Keystone Partners says, “Raleigh-Durham based executives should work to regain employee trust. There are opportunities, both now and post-pandemic, where leaders will be able to reconnect with their teams, listen, demonstrate understanding, and communicate a clear vision forward. The best way is with coaching – especially at the highest executive levels. Peer-level coaches can help assess situations and provide objective input that will serve to deepen the executive’s understanding and more effectively communicate a vision that will nurture employee trust.”

Survey Methodology
Leading Indicator Systems conducted the online survey December 18th – 22nd, 2020, with a population-representative sample of American employees who are currently working full time for companies with at least 20 employees. The national survey of 473 employees has a statistical confidence level of 95 percent with a margin of error of 4.8 percent.

About Keystone Partners
Keystone Partners is a leading career management and leadership development consulting firm headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts. Keystone works with organizations in New England, Chicago, Dallas, the Research Triangle, and around the world to efficiently and effectively address their career management and development needs.

Keystone Partners provides comprehensive career management services through executive level; and leadership development solutions that help leaders and their organizations learn, develop, grow and thrive. Keystone Partners is also a founding partner of Career Partners International. For more information, please visit

About Leading Indicator Systems
Leading Indicator Systems, a partner to human capital consultants and professionals for more than 20 years, provides assessment solutions designed to help move the needle on the things that matter most.

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Jenny Robles
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