Empathy is a concept we’re familiar with in our personal lives, but it hasn’t always featured prominently in our professional ones. During the 1980s and 1990s, many businesses focused primarily on financial results and performance. Bringing your personal life into the working environment was a “no-no,” and for many employees (including leaders), the only person present at the office was their “work persona.”
However, that’s all changing. Empathy matters more than ever in the modern workplace. An Ernst & Young survey found that 86% of employees believe empathetic leadership boosts morale, and almost 9 in 10 see empathy as essential to fostering an inclusive environment. But it seems there’s still much work to be done by U.S. employers:
In this article, we’ll explore the concept of empathetic leadership and consider some strategies you can adopt to bring it to life in your business.
Uncertainty emerged as the hallmark of life and work in the 2020s. Business leaders need to accept that whatever further surprises the decade might hold, success requires resilience–the ability to adjust and pivot to meet arising challenges and opportunities. GoForwardToWork.com identified four characteristics of resilient teams: candor, resourcefulness, compassion, and humility.
The word “empathy” means “to feel” and iIn its most basic sense, empathy involves putting yourself in another person’s shoes and being able to sense their emotions. In the context of business leadership, empathy involves:
Leaders who are empathetic and care about their colleagues and teams are prepared to have hard conversations about accountability, performance, and individual growth. This is because they care about and believe in the person and their abilities, holding them to a higher standard.
Empathy plays an integral role in modern business strategies and can deliver compelling benefits:
When employees experience empathy, they feel more valued and motivated to do more for their colleagues and the business. This ultimately aids in higher levels of employee engagement and collaboration.
Giving people a safe space to share their perspectives and feel comfortable taking sensible risks without fear of consequences catalyzes new ideas and thinking.
When people feel part of an inclusive team where everyone is supported, heard, and valued, morale and loyalty increase, ultimately boosting productivity, revenue, and growth.
How confident are you that you’re an empathetic leader? If you’re in any doubt, here are a few steps you can take to get started:
As the cost-of-living crisis rages on, financial stress is rife among U.S. workers. Empathetic leaders are taking steps to support the financial well-being of their employees by imparting financial education and offering online tools, in-person assistance, and other budgeting and financial services.
Earned Wage Access (EWA) is increasingly becoming a popular benefit that helps employees reach their financial wellness goals. It allows employees to quickly access the money they’ve already earned before payday, easing their financial stress and lowering the risk of falling into debt. Additionally, it helps protect employees from predatory lending options such as payday loans, title loans and overdraft fees.
With a service provider like Payactiv, employees can use their earned wages to pay for services like Uber and Amazon and pay their bills directly through the Payactiv app. We also offer additional perks like discounts, special offers, budgeting and saving tools, and free 1:1 financial counseling.
Principles such as compassion, patience, and kindness should be at the center of all workplace communication. Employees in all roles and levels must have appropriate channels to express their emotions without fear of being discriminated against, judged, or ignored. We recommend that leaders issue a “communication charter” that sets a standard for good communication between co-workers, management teams, and senior leaders so everyone is clear on what’s expected.
Empathetic leaders set time aside to give and receive feedback. These catch-up sessions should take place outside of formal review processes. The best way to do this is by asking open-ended questions, such as:
Regular check-ins with team members will go a long way to building trust. Empathetic leaders understand that employees are invaluable resources who must be shown the necessary support to thrive.
When leaders are having difficult conversations with their team members, their natural instinct is often to try and fix the situation, particularly how employees are feeling. But true empathy isn’t about fixing things, and such an attitude rarely improves things. Instead, empathetic leaders speak slowly and pause regularly. This ensures they find the right words to help defuse negative emotions.
In an attempt to conserve energy for themselves, some leaders turn inwards when under pressure. Even if you’re feeling stressed and don’t have any spare bandwidth, don’t forget to spend a little time or energy on someone else in your team that you know is also feeling stressed or strained. Simple gestures like sending a text message of support to team members having a hard time or picking up coffee and donuts for everyone to enjoy on your way to work will send them a message that you care.
Empathetic leaders don’t jump to conclusions and pass judgment, even when what is being said or done is at odds with their beliefs. They find the strength to let go of their biases and attune to others’ perspectives. Instead of categorizing colleagues’ feelings rightly or wrongly, they use them to view the world differently. This gives them a better vantage point to understand what others are experiencing, enabling them to demonstrate true empathy.
The ability to empathize is a vital business strategy that all leaders need to master to be successful. Practicing an empathic leadership style allows you to connect with your teams more deeply and understand their needs and wants. But true empathy is not about grandiose gestures; it’s about small, meaningful actions and words that are low-cost but high-impact. Empathetic leadership is the future of an effective, productive, and loyal workforce, and it just makes good business sense.
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