Lacking Empathy in the Workplace? Here’s How to Fix It

Posted by Seraine Page on Wed, Aug, 05, 2020

Empathy in the WorkplaceHow empathetic are you toward your employees?

If you struggle to showcase empathy in the workplace, you’re not the only one.

While the pandemic environment has brought to light the need for company leadership to better understand workplace empathy, many are finding it a struggle to implement empathetic practices.

In fact, 68% of CEOs think companies are empathetic. Yet only 48% of employees believe the same, according to The Businessolver® State of Workplace Empathy Study.

It’s a big enough deal to employees that one out of three employees would opt for a job switch to a more empathetic company culture. In an era where there needs to be more flexibility than ever, a focus on empathy from leadership can turn workplace harmony around.

Are you missing the key ingredient of empathy in your workplace?

Read on to learn about the importance of empathy at work and easy yet practical ways to incorporate it into the daily grind.

What is Empathy?

Empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” It’s essentially the idea of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

It’s not the same as sympathy, which empathy often gets confused with at times. Both do deal with emotion, but sympathy is defined as having “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.”

Why Workplace Empathy Matters

When you consider one in three employees would leave their jobs for a more empathetic workplace, there’s no doubt the incentive is high to figure out empathy practices. Empathy, it turns out, has a big impact on the workplace.

Showcasing empathy leads to:

  • Happier employees
  • Increased productivity
  • Increase loyalty and retention

When leaders consider how they feel when they aren’t listened to, it’s easy to flip the script and realize how it might make employees feel. Research shows that empathetic behavior indicates to individuals they’re being heard and their feedback is valued and appreciated.

Additionally, The Bussinessolver study showed those individuals will stay and work harder if they feel like their opinions and thoughts matter to leadership. Forty percent of workers said they would work longer hours for an empathetic employer. Fifty-six percent surveyed said they’d stay in their current jobs if they felt valued.

When leadership and employees alike take the time to learn the best empathy practices,  everyone benefits.

Empathy Can Be Learned

Luckily, empathy is a learned behavior.

It may take time and a little training, but you can rewire your brain to be more empathetic.

By nature, empathy is a close emotional experience. In workplaces where being emotionally invested in one another may be frowned upon, this can be especially difficult to move beyond. You can still maintain professional relationships and be empathetic, though.

Empathy does come more naturally to some people.

Not a natural empath? Here are a few exercises recommended from a 2018 Psychology Today article titled Learn Empathy in Just 5 Steps:

  1. Think about your significant other or a friend, family member, or coworker.
  2. What has their mood been like in recent days?
  3. What’s going on in this person’s life that might be making them happy or sad, anxious, or angry?
  4. How are you contributing?
  5. What could you do or say to improve this person’s situation?

When you take a moment to put yourself in that person’s shoes, it provides comfort and reassurance to that other person when you respond with thoughtful statements or gestures. Even before the pandemic, individuals wanted to see more empathy in the workplace. Now more than ever, empathy can go a long way.

Practical Examples of Empathy in the Workplace

You may be wondering where to start. Aside from the activity above, there are some short-and long-term strategies to consider. Employees generally look at CEOs to pilot empathy conversations and practices. This then trickles down to management who can then actively practice it within individual departments.

There’s no better time than now while remote work is at an all-time high to start communicating in a more empathetic, compassionate way. Below are some ways to do so.

Ways leaders can show empathy in the workplace include:

  • Listen - Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of empathy is just listening. Allow for your colleagues and employees to vent. Actively listen during these conversations.
  • Validate emotions - As you actively listen, make sure to validate the person’s emotions. While you may not fully agree with their opinion or view, you can acknowledge their feelings in a neutral way. You can use reflective language like, “That must be tough. Is there anything I can do to help?”
  • Show compassion - If you know an employee is battling an illness or balancing work and homeschooling thanks to the pandemic, show that you care. Send a card to let them know you think they’re doing an amazing job. Ask if you could help in some way.
  • Have an open-door policy - Your employees have feelings. Even if your workplace is generally business-like and non-emotional, your employees still have emotions to deal with daily. In Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, only 40% of employees felt as though a fellow coworker cared about them. Open your door and let them see you care to talk and connect.
  • Connect on a regular basis - In an era where our social calendars and in-person workplace interactions have been abruptly halted, social health and connection are more important than ever. Connect and have informal chats and empathetically listen to colleagues who may be struggling in this new normal.
  • Discuss mental health - Don’t shy away from mental health concerns, either. It’s not easy dealing with anxiety or depression. Given that those two conditions have spiked across the U.S. since the start of the pandemic, consider giving your employees some leeway to ease those health concerns. Offering flexible work schedules, remote working, and encouraging the use of mental health resources all indicate empathy even if you personally don’t struggle with mental health issues.
  • Watch for signs of burnout & address it - Gallup recently reported that of 7,500 full-time employees, 23% felt burned out most of the time. Watch for employee burnout and address it promptly. Encourage self-care, vacation time, and using wellness benefits before the end of the year.

Gauging your own behavior — including watching your body language in conversations — is another way to monitor your empathy. Using direct eye contact, shutting down your computer and putting your phone away (for in-person conversations), and scheduling time for one-on-one check-in meetings are all starting points for showcasing empathy.

Encourage Empathy in the Workplace Daily

Change starts from the top down.

If leadership shows empathy matters, it can catch like wildfire in the workplace. Offering empathy training, showcasing empathetic practices, and engaging in conversations around empathy are great engagement opportunities.

Showcasing empathy at work doesn’t have to be a multi-step process. Plus, it can be tough to measure how well it’s working. But once leadership starts actively practicing it, send out a survey to gauge the empathy practices of your workplace. Make it anonymous for the best and most honest feedback. Even implementing the survey feedback can show that your company is interested in becoming more connected and open.

One important note: Building empathetic practices is not an overnight change. But with some patience and time put into active listening, patience, thoughtful questioning, and open-door policies, you will eventually see change.

Connect over shared challenges — like common pandemic concerns — and then go from there. Emotional connection and empathy has to start somewhere. Common ground is just one way to start.

How well does your company display empathy in the workplace? What are some of your favorite strategies to showcase it? Share in the comments below!

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Topics: Healthy Workplaces


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