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How empathetic leadership communication mitigates employees' turnover intention during COVID-19-related organizational change

Cen April Yue (Department of Communication, University of Connecticut, Stamford, Connecticut, USA)
Patrick D. Thelen (School of Journalism and Media Studies, San Diego State University, San Diego, California, USA)
Justin Walden (Department of Communication, North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota, USA)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Article publication date: 10 August 2022




The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak thrust a spotlight on organizational leaders and the challenges that employees face during periods of organizational change. The purpose of the current study is to examine the influence of empathetic supervisor communication on employee turnover intention and the mediating role of affective trust toward supervisors and employee–organization relationship (EOR) quality. Informed by the social exchange theory and EOR literature, the authors develop a model in which affective trust toward supervisors and EOR quality mediates the relationship between empathetic supervisor communication and employee turnover intention.


This study recruited 417 employees based in the USA through an online panel operated by a professional survey company. Data collection that followed a quota sampling procedure lasted for about three weeks in October 2020. The authors used structural equation modeling to test the study hypotheses.


The findings of this study indicated that the extent to which supervisors adopted empathetic communication during organizational change had considerable repercussions on their supervisees' affective trust toward supervisors, relationship perception toward their organizations, and ultimately, their turnover intention.


This study is among the first that identifies empathetic communication as a pivotal force in driving employees' positive relational and behavioral reactions, reinforcing the growing expectation of supervisors in fulfilling communication functions during organizational change. Moreover, the authors contribute to understanding change management as an activity rooted in and enacted through communication between supervisors and subordinates. In addition, this study contributes to the organizational research of empathy during change.



This project was supported by a Page Legacy Scholar Grant from the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication at the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications at The Pennsylvania State University. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Penn State.


Yue, C.A., Thelen, P.D. and Walden, J. (2022), "How empathetic leadership communication mitigates employees' turnover intention during COVID-19-related organizational change", Management Decision, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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