The topic of empathy isn’t exactly one that comes up often in the workplace, but research suggests that perhaps it should. According to a 2019 Workplace Empathy Study, 90 percent of employees think that empathy is important in the workplace, and a striking 8 out of 10 employees said they would leave their jobs if their managers lacked empathy. Beyond employee experience, empathy in the workplace has been proven to lead to improved operational metrics as well such as increased productivity.
What is Empathy?
Empathy is colloquially understood as meaning the ability to walk in another person’s shoes. More specifically, Psychology Today defines it as “the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings, and condition from their point of view rather than from your own.” In the workplace, this means treating your employees as full human beings as opposed to just workers. Empathy is also an emotional skill. This means that while it comes naturally to some, most people find that empathy is something that must be practiced and honed over time.
Why is Empathy Important in the Workplace?
Cultivating empathy in the workplace is key to creating harmonious and successful teams. Not only will your team members be able to better relate to one another, but they will also respect you more as a leader and manager. Empathy is also the foundation of mutual respect, which ought to be integral in your organization’s corporate philosophy.
How do I, as a leader or manager, cultivate Empathy in my workplace?
1. Ask Questions and Listen to the Answers
Asking meaningful questions and actively listening to the answers is the first step in creating empathy in the workplace. While this may sound simple and intuitive, it actually requires a significant amount of effort.
First, you ought to actively make yourself available to any and all questions from your team members. They should never feel like their manager is unavailable or unwilling to answer questions. When a team member does approaches you with a problem, it is your responsibility as a leader to ask the right clarifying questions to get to the root of his or her issue. Not only does asking the right questions help you get to the root of the problem, but it also shows the team member who asked that you genuinely care about helping him or her.
Moreover, when listening to a team member express a problem, it is crucial to engage in active listening. Active listening, unlike passive listening, requires verbal affirmations such as “I see where you are coming from” or “I hear your concern and I take it very seriously” to show that you are invested in solving the problem. Active listening also requires that you are engaged in helping your team member solve the problem. By the end of the conversation, even if you do not have an immediate solution to their problem, they should know that you are taking their problem seriously and will ensure they have the necessary resources and support to solve it.
2. Understand Your Team Members’ Ambitions
As a leader and mentor, you should care about your team members’ career goals and what you can potentially do to help them achieve those goals. This kind of conversation is best-had as a one-on-one, preferably in the early stages of your work relationship with each individual. Quarterly check-ins are also a good time to ask your team members about their goals and whether or not they feel satisfied in their current roles. Additionally, it is beneficial to make time more non-work-related casual interactions with your team members. This can take the form of visiting their work stations for a few minutes to ask how they are doing, inviting them to coffee every once in a while, or simply striking up a chat in the breakroom.
Understanding your team members also has operational benefits. Knowing each of your team members as individuals will help you build stronger teams, as you are aware of each person’s strengths, improvement areas, perspectives, and goals.
3. Communicate Often (and not just about work)
As a manager, an open-door policy when it comes to your team members is the best communication strategy you can possibly have. Not only should you be regularly checking-in with each of your team members, but they should always feel like your door is open to them if they have any questions, concerns, of feedback.
Consistent and meaningful communication is also key to establishing context with your employees. Empathetic managers understand that their team members shoulder personal problems and responsibilities on top of their work-related responsibilities. Keeping an open line of communication and encouraging transparency is a great way to help your team members feel safe sharing when necessary and asking for help when they need it.