Upskilling refugees and how to lead with empathy in times of crisis: Top stories from Davos


The intersection of leadership, power and collaboration were high on the agenda on Tuesday. One thing many speakers agreed on is that workers increasingly hold more power, and good leaders must show empathy and understanding of their needs amid ever-changing working conditions. 

Creating an environment that invests in workers' skills and wellbeing is crucial. And where people feel connected to the culture and purpose the company. Adecco President, Christophe Catoir, gave one example: “We have become very aware that we need to reinforce our onboarding in person,” he said. “Turnover has increased in the past years and this is connected to less adhesion to company culture. We feel that onboarding is playing a big role in this trend.” 

What begins with onboarding continues with a true commitment to investing in workers and empowering them through offering opportunities to reskill and upskill at work. As Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said, “human capital is the engine driving growth.” 

Here are the five biggest stories from the world of work on the second day of Davos.

1.     Upskilling refugees to create economic opportunity

The conflict in Ukraine has torn open delicate debates about migration flows in Europe, sparking discussions over the future of the European economy. For Vice-President of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas, "the time has come to de-toxify debate around migration". 

Creating a skilled refugee workforce could change the migration dynamic, speakers agreed.

Photo by World Economic Forum via Flickr 

2.     Workers' needs have changed, companies must change with them

Millions of workers have changed jobs in the past 12 months and the trend is likely to continue this year. Better salaries, rewarding and meaningful work and, above all, flexibility over work hours and locations are at the top of many job hunters' wish lists. 

The health crisis may have been a catalyst for change, but the trends are no flash in the pan because people now need to behave in different ways at work, according to PWC Chairman Robert E. Moritz, “The power in people's hands coupled with the technology enables more mobility,” Moritz said. This means “underlying and fundamental changes in terms of what companies need to do now, to enable success with their people and for their people.” 

Photo by World Economic Forum via Flickr

3.     Connecting with the workforce through empathy 

In recent years, good leaders have not only guided countries, cities and companies through troubled times, but found ways to ease the people they are leading through upheaval. 

In business, leading with empathy has meant understanding the problems employees are facing, from being overwhelmed with video meetings to navigating the stress of returning to the office. In this morning’s session on Leading with Empathy in Times of Crisis, speakers identified three key skills empathetic leaders have demonstrated: listening, authenticity, and curiosity. 

Leaders who take this approach are likely to form stronger bonds with employees. “Empathy is its own reward, but leaders who develop corporate empathy will also unlock a business payoff,” says the Adecco Group’s CEO, Alain Dehaze. “Connecting with the workforce and supporting employees will ultimately lead to better results when it comes to employee engagement and talent retention.” 

Photo by World Economic Forum via Flickr

4.     Leading through crises, guided by values 

What do organisations do when hit by one crisis after another? This has been the experience of companies and institutions around the world left grappling with the global health crisis, war in Ukraine and resulting economic shocks in recent years. 

As cycles of global disruption become more regular, organisations must be prepared to react to diverse crises with tailored approaches. In this context, company values can be a guiding light that reduce difficult decisions to core principles and help leaders make consistent, ethical decisions. "In recent years I see more and more of us in business positions taking a stance and taking a side and this has to be guided by your values and a culture of empathy," said the Adecco Group's Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, Valerie Beaulieu.

These values can also be a rallying call for collective leadership, of the type President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyden, told Davos was needed in order to rebuild Ukraine and to work towards the European Green Deal. A collaborative approach can often be “clunky, and unsexy,” said Corinne Momal-Vanian, Executive Director of the Kofi Annan Foundation. But, “this is the kind of leadership we need today. Not single heroes but people who are going to make collective decision-making possible.”

5.     Working together for the environment and the rise of the ecopreneur

The Green Transition is one of the key driving forces shaping the world of work, so how can governments, businesses and workers harmonise to make it a success? Canadian Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, François-Philippe Champagne, put it very clearly: “Talent, talent, talent. That is the big differentiator today.” 

This talent doesn’t all have to come from employees – what about ecopreneurs? Founders of businesses dedicated to environmental solutions are a growing global force: In Silicon Valley alone 25% of new businesses are estimated to be focused on environmental solutions. “We’re witnessing an ecopreneurs revolution,” said Marc Benioff, co-CEO of Salesforce. “Great companies are born in recessions and we're seeing solutions that are going to deliver tremendous returns.”

Photo by World Economic Forum via Flickr

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