Ever heard the phrase “put yourself in their shoes”? There are many terms that can be used to describe what empathy is but put simply it is the ability to understand and relate to the feelings of another person through that person’s frame of reference.
According to the 2018 State of Workplace Empathy study, 96% of employees recognize empathy as a vital part of their workplace and something that their employers should express — however, 92% believe empathy isn’t valued within their workplace. If something is so important to employees and employers, then how is it so overlooked in the workplace?
Numerous factors stand in the way of employers and employees empathizing with one another in the workplace. These can include stress, deadlines, and being overly occupied with work. Here’s why empathy matters, what it means to be empathetic, and how you can introduce empathy back into the workplace.
Why Is Empathy Important?
In many workplaces around the world, professionalism is a key attribute among employees. That’s great, as it boosts productivity and confidence among not just the employers, but the customers too. But professionalism can sometimes serve as more of a mask covering the authenticity of the person behind it. Attempting to never show emotion and adopt a hardheaded, confident persona all of the time might work for some people, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who’s genuinely like that.
Leaders and managers suffer from this burden all too much. However, it is these people, especially who must be able to empathize and relate to the feelings of employees the most. How often do you see an unhappy team working at their most productive? Not very often. Raising barriers between colleagues leads to a breakdown in communication, which has a domino effect across a team and possibly a business.
Integrating Empathy into the Workplace
BusinessSolver completed a survey, and the results were interesting. 58% of CEO’s say they struggle to display empathy in the workplace, which is a big problem considering many employees want it in the workplace — 93% of employees say they are more likely to stay with an empathetic employer.
But how can it be integrated into the workplace? There are a number of steps people — and businesses — can take to promote empathy, and it all boils down to being human.
Authenticity Goes a Long Way
As mentioned before, being authentic and transparent is a great way to begin being more empathetic. That means not projecting what others want to see of you — at least not completely. It means being honest about your successes and your brilliance, but also about your failures and your pitfalls. This has the effect of bringing people closer to you because they can relate to those aspects too, because no human is perfect, and we enjoy being around people similar to ourselves. This is a fundamental building block of empathy.
Listen, Listen, and Listen
If you want to begin a business culture that incorporates empathy, you need to know how to actively listen. That means paying attention to what people are saying without talking over or ignoring what they’ve said.
This is an important skill for managers and team members. If you’re going to ask questions and then not listen to the answer, or interject your own over someone else’s, it makes them feel unheard and cut off from the team. Building this trust and ability to communicate without shutting people out is massively important for those who want to build empathy in their organization. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask questions at the right times, however, because asking questions is one way of confirming with a speaker that you’re actively listening to what they’re saying.
Be Grateful and Positive
When was the last time you said thank you to your employees? When did you last show sincere appreciation for their work? If this was months ago, then this is an important point for you. Making your team members and colleagues feel appreciated goes a long way in boosting morale and making people feel important. If their work feels worthwhile then they’re more likely to work hard and be happy.
Positivity and gratitude don’t just mean saying thank you on a whim — it means adopting an attitude that shows you’re genuinely pleased with the efforts of those around you. Even when you’re seeking for improvements, taking a positive approach towards a problem can help spread empathy and help see the change you want.