A study conducted in 2018 found that 96% of employees think it is important for their employers to demonstrate empathy, but 92% of employees believe that empathy is undervalued in their workplace. Is empathy as important as people in the workplace seem to think, and if so, what impact does empathy have on the success of a business?
Let’s start with a basic definition. Empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and take into account the emotions of another person. Empathy is at the heart of human connection. It is possible to respect a person and even trust them without empathy – which is all that some bosses feel is necessary in the workplace – but it is impossible to relate to someone else, to understand their point of view, or to fully appreciate what they are bringing to the table without empathy.
That same study found that 87% of CEOs see a direct link between empathy in the workplace and employee retention, productivity, and overall business success. Finding ways to promote empathy is a clear way to improve workplace culture and take strides toward better understanding your employees.
But how can workplace empathy be improved? If you are simply not an empathetic person by nature – which is a common characteristic among the most successful people – what can you do to change that? Here are two ways to begin.
1. Don’t just listen. Watch.
Empathetic people have an ability to read between the lines. Empathy starts with being a good listener, but listening is about more than just absorbing words. It’s also about being a student of human behavior, about observing body language and learning how to decipher it. For example, if your employees seem nervous to speak to you, it’s important to figure out why that is – and asking them directly probably isn’t the best way to find out.
2. Understand the balance of work life and professional life.
Some bosses may feel that your personal life should be kept out of the office. But the fact of the matter is that a new baby or a death in the family or a divorce or an illness can all have major impacts upon how a person performs at work. Rather than demanding that your employees deliver the same level of work all the time no matter what, try to put yourself in their shoes and have compassion for what they might be experiencing. By offering a bit of extra time on this project or adjusted work hours for the next quarter, you can help employees feel more valued and build long-term loyalty.
Empathy isn’t something that can be built overnight, but with conscious actions and a lot of practice, it can be learned. And learning empathy is certainly worth the effort, both in and out of the office.