I remember reading a pre-Covid Forbes article in 2019 in which the author was challenging those who referred to empathy as a “soft fluffy skill”, advocating its importance in the workplace to aid co-operation, innovation and influence. Two years on and we are living in a very different world, with new threats and challenges, so is empathy being viewed any differently?
According to the employee benefits provider Businessolver’s State of Workplace Empathy Study in 2020 empathy has actually been stalling in many companies, with employees feeling that their employers are not doing enough to help them overcome, adapt and move forward. The report stated that over three quarters of respondents believed an empathetic organisation inspired more motivated employees, compared to 65% who said the same in 2019. However, only about half the CEOs agreed that empathy drove productivity and motivation.
The global thinktank, Hack Future Lab recently reported that 84% of employees stated that empathy was critical for business success. Another study suggested that thriving employees are twice as likely to work for organisations that effectively balance more empathetic EQ (Emotional Quotient) with IQ (Intelligence Quotient) in decision-making, but only half of businesses are successful in managing such a balance. These studies strongly suggest that there is a greater need for empathy in today’s Covid and post-Covid workplaces, but it is currently an under-developed skill in many places.
The Covid pandemic has presented business leaders with a highly unusual opportunity to reinvent themselves: to adopt new ideas, to learn new skills and to help motivate and engage teams – to drive their organisations forward. I think empathy has an important role to play here in helping create more collaborative, transparent and resilient cultures.
So how can businesses incorporate empathy into their organisation:
Empathy is the ability to sense another’s emotions and imagine what they might be thinking or feeling, but it is not the same as sympathy.
Action: take a couple of minutes to watch Brene Brown’s very effective empathy animation and share with others.
More empathetic and open working environments can be formed when team members have an understanding of different personality traits, working styles and preferences.
Action: choose an appropriate personality profile assessment to use within your teams, such as Myers-Briggs , Belbin Team Roles, or DISC assessments and colour profiling to initiate conversations and provide a way for colleagues to understand each other more easily.
Research has shown that empathy can be learned and the best way to learn empathy is through doing more listening than talking.
Action: set up check-in meetings with team members to include elements of work and non-work discussions but let the individual guide the conversation. Use questioning only as a prompt to encourage employee-led solutions.
During times of crisis it can be difficult for business leaders to make themselves more available to their staff, but becoming more accessible is key to practicing empathetic leadership.
Action: be curious and actively show an interest in team members beyond their daily work and ask for their opinions and ideas.
Business leaders often make the mistake of believing they have to have all the answers – particularly during times of great uncertainty and change.
Action: connect with employees at a more human level. Try being more authentic and honest, such as sharing a personal or professional challenge with them, to encourage more transparency and openness.
Empathy is NOT about taking on all the emotions and perspectives of others, but more about understanding and considering them. Thankfully, empathy can be built and developed and as 19th July approaches, isn’t this the perfect time to practice this underrated skill for the good of your people, your business and you?