Understanding Empathy in the Workplace

An empathetic workforce is a productive workforce. According to Businessolver’s 2017 Workplace Empathy Monitor report, empathy has a direct impact on employee productivity, loyalty, and engagement. Seventy-seven percent of workers would be willing to work more hours for a more empathetic workplace; meanwhile, 60% would actually accept a reduced salary for a more empathetic workplace. Simply put, empathy is the ability to step into someone else’s shoes, be aware of their feelings and understand their needs. It is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions or experience of others. Empathy is more than just sympathy, which is being able to understand and support others with compassion or sensitivity. Given that one-in-three workers would leave their companies for a more compassionate environment, there’s a major incentive for companies to emphasize an empathetic work culture. Empathy requires individuals to take the initiative to get closer to their coworkers. That initiative doesn’t come out of thin air: a compassionate workplace requires a conscious, organization-wide effort from the leadership team to the individuals working throughout the company. Claiming to be a “good listener” isn’t enough in a world where 30% of employees feel their opinions don’t matter, you must demonstrate it. Listening isn’t just hearing words but seeking to understand. Watching is also critical to building your ability to empathize with other people, body language can often tell you more about what people think and feel than their words can. Demonstrating empathy takes time and effort to show awareness and understanding. Being empathetic allows leaders to help struggling employees improve and find their strengths, a leader can show empathy by using direct eye contact while talking and sitting in a comfortable setting versus across a room or behind an imposing desk.  As you become more proficient at understanding your own feelings, you’ll get better at understanding the feelings of the people around you. When you understand your team, you have a better idea of the challenges ahead of you. When you stop and think, “How am I feeling” right after you receive a new, huge assignment?” and the answer is, “excited and overwhelmed,” then you can apply that to others around you. Eighty-seven percent of CEOs see a direct link between workplace empathy and business performance, productivity, retention, and general business health. In the workplace, empathy can show deep respect for co-workers and show that you care, as opposed to just going by rules and regulations. Your tone of voice and speaking with one another instead of communicating almost exclusively by email, text, Slack, or other messaging services can help you build empathy. This is because you understand what your coworker thinks and feels, or at least you understand their feelings. Additionally, using video conferencing instead of just teleconferencing can help you watch and listen to your colleagues. Some people resist the idea of video conferencing because they don’t feel comfortable on camera. That’s understandable, but that discomfort can help everyone understand each other better. You can’t push people to open up about their feelings and run when they do. That behavior makes for a less pleasant, empathetic workplace. But, when you take personal responsibility to better understand your coworkers, your company ultimately reaps the rewards. Eighty-seven percent of CEOs believe a company’s financial performance is tied to empathy in the workplace, as do 79% of HR professionals. An empathy index published in the Harvard Business Review found that the 10 most empathetic companies increased in value more than twice as much as those at the bottom of the index and they generated 50% more earnings defined by market capitalization, from one year to the next. According to Linda Saxl Minton, “Companies that have the ability to listen, to be empathetic, may make better business partners which could lead to higher revenues”, and in fact concurring with her point, 42% of consumers would refuse to buy from a company that they don’t believe to be empathetic according to Businessolver. Overall, when you use empathy in the workplace, you can understand your coworkers better. And that’s great for any business.


Author: Bobby Cottingham