Holding Space

Shaping Organisational Empathy through a Collaborative Auto Ethnographic Approach

  • Shaun Ruggunan UKZN
  • Dr Kathryn Pillay University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • Dr Cristy Leask University of KwaZulu-Natal


The Covid-19 pandemic restructured work, work organisations and organisational responses to crisis. Public sector universities in South Africa were not immune to the profound shifts in organisational practice that the pandemic thrust upon them. This paper aims to understand affective organizational responses, specifically empathy to employees in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Using a collaborative auto-ethnographic approach (CAE), we assess a South African public university’s empathetic response to employees’ work-life integration challenges at the peak of the pandemic. Conceptually we offer the idea of ‘performative empathy’ as a lens to analyze organisational behavior.

Author Biographies

Dr Kathryn Pillay, University of KwaZulu-Natal
Dr Kathryn Pillay is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), South Africa. She is a National Research Foundation rated researcher whose areas of teaching and research include that of ‘race’, migration, identity and belonging. Her more recent research focuses on compassionate pedagogy and leadership. She holds an honours degree in Industrial Psychology, a Masters in Industrial, Organisational and Labour Studies, and a PhD in Sociology from UKZN.   
Dr Cristy Leask, University of KwaZulu-Natal
Dr Cristy Leask is a registered Counselling and Industrial Psychologist. Her consulting, research and teaching focus on leadership, sustainability and organisational complexity. Cristy is passionate about being part of the solution for the sustainability crisis of our time. Navigating the current world requires bold leaders to increase shared prosperity, promote sustainable development, and place purpose at centre of the dialogue.