The word “empathy” gets thrown around a lot these days for good reason. Everyone could stand to benefit from a lot more empathy in politics, personal relationships and the workplace. They might not show it, but employees need more support than ever in these uncertain times.
Here’s a look at the importance of empathy and four tips to foster empathy in the workplace.
Why is Empathy Important?
Many workplaces are becoming more digital, but the human factor will always be essential to any company culture. Building strong interpersonal relationships is one key factor that improves daily productivity and establishes a supportive culture.
Unfortunately, fostering relationships between staff members has never been more difficult for business leaders. More workers are switching to hybrid and remote schedules, which has led to isolation and disconnection throughout the office. People don’t feel the same bond with their co-workers as before, which makes them unable to empathize with each other.
Several other factors in the modern workplace are preventing the natural growth of empathetic environments. Many workers report a sense of purposelessness at their jobs. This problem is just one extension of the mental health crisis plaguing younger generations. Economic, social and political instability also seep into the workplace and increase the need for empathy.
4 Tips to Be an Empathetic Leader
Now that Millennials and Gen Z make up most of the workforce, fostering empathy is more crucial than ever. These employees often have no direction and, thus, no desire to build relationships and go the extra mile. Company leaders must be supportive and stabilizing presences for their workers. Here are four ways to accomplish that goal.
1. Make Employees Feel Wanted
A lack of purpose makes people feel unwanted, whether it’s at home, school or work. People need to feel like their roles matter. Otherwise, they apathetically move from day to day without any incentive to improve or connect with co-workers. Managers can make each staff member aware of their importance with these strategies:
- Give them many measurable goals and key performance indicators so they can see real examples of their value to the team.
- Provide frequent feedback — both positive and negative. Sometimes empathy comes in the form of constructive criticism.
- Encourage them to share progress stories with co-workers.
- Keep them in the loop about the company’s growth.
A paycheck is not enough incentive to motivate people to work daily, especially amidst the current economic turmoil nationwide. They need something more powerful — concrete evidence of their contributions. Businesses must regularly provide this evidence to keep their employees engaged.
2. Emphasize Communication
Lack of communication between co-workers is one of the main causes of isolation and disconnection. Without clear lines of communication, superiors can quickly lose control. They must keep their eyes and ears open. An excellent way to start is by focusing on non-verbal cues such as body language and tone of voice so they know the higher-ups are truly listening.
Make a point to chat with all employees so they feel heard and appreciated. Respond to their emails in a timely manner. Hold text conversations and phone calls. Schedule regular touchpoints to check in on their job performance and overall well-being. The main topic of discussion doesn’t have to be work-related — just give them a chance to speak their minds.
Companies with remote employees must also implement helpful collaboration tools to connect with the office. These tools will help with hybrid communication efforts:
- Messaging apps: Mobile apps like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Chat and Discord allow the whole workforce to communicate in one place. They also enable departments to create their own group chats.
- Video conferencing: Video conferencing has changed the work landscape forever. Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and Zoom enable workers to socialize and make connections from anywhere.
With state-of-the-art communication platforms and an open-door policy, employees might feel more comfortable voicing their thoughts and opinions. The ability to have honest discussions helps foster empathy by exposing employees to more perspectives.
3. Develop Company Traditions
A healthy workplace mirrors a healthy society in many ways. Everyone plays a vital and unique role, but they can still shed some individuality and share in communal traditions. Managers must lead the way in developing business traditions to create a tight-knit culture. Everyone is more empathetic when they can put aside their differences and have fun together.
Office parties, fundraisers and happy hours are the main traditions people think of, but these ideas are no longer good enough. Managers should also encourage healthy habits to keep staff energized and productive. Prioritizing health and wellness is a clear sign the company truly cares about its employees.
Creating office traditions is more difficult for companies with hybrid or remote workers. Managers can make sure these employees feel like equal parts of the company culture in several ways:
- Give them more prominent roles in video conferences.
- Set up multiplayer gaming sessions the whole team can play.
- Send them personalized messages on holidays, birthdays and other special milestones.
When people make positive memories together, they develop a close bond that overpowers their individual differences. They’re more likely to understand and appreciate each other’s points of view. Business traditions are natural catalysts for empathy.
4. Give Each New Hire a Mentor
Many new employees have difficulty meshing with well-established company culture. This problem leads to them feeling isolated and unwelcome. Managers should give each new hire a mentor who can empathize with their struggles and guide them through the growing pains. New people are the ones who need the most empathy in any environment.
This relationship develops empathy on both sides by giving each person a different perspective and forcing them to adapt. People often get too absorbed in their own work routines and neglect the needs of their fellow workers. A mentorship program prevents both parties from developing this bad habit and keeps them humble.
The mentor can also help the new staff member set measurable goals, connect with co-workers and become engrained in company traditions. One close relationship can mean the difference between a disgruntled employee and a happy one.
The World Could Use More Empathy
The average employee in 2022 is unsatisfied with their job and this problem becomes more apparent as the Great Resignation continues to grow. The world could use more empathy to get people excited about work again. They need to feel wanted, heard, appreciated and like they’re part of a team. All of these things require the same quality from authority figures — empathy.
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