Leadership styles vary from one person to the next, but one character trait that is steadily becoming essential in the modern workplace is empathy. It’s the age-old saying of putting oneself in others’ shoes to fully understand and experience their feelings. It’s the importance of taking into consideration how your actions or inaction affect those around you. And in organizations, it’s the key to building a strong culture and retaining employees.
According to the 2019 State of Workplace Empathy study by Businessolver, 93% of employees reported they would stay with an empathetic employer; moreover, 82% of employees would leave their position to work for a more empathetic organization. In a tight labor market, empathy can be the outlier that gives organizations a competitive advantage.
The study also found that 72% of CEOs believe the state of empathy needs to evolve, yet 58% struggle with consistently exhibiting the trait. So, the desire is there, but the execution needs work.
Leader Empathy – Vicarious Introspection
In psychology, empathy is defined as vicarious introspection, which can build a tighter bond between two parties. Yet with so many different types of communication styles, personalities, and levels of extroversion and introversion, it’s no wonder 58% of leaders struggle with empathy.
However, there may be a solution to understanding others better. From Myers-Briggs to DiSC to Enneagram, there are several different types of personality tests to help teammates understand one another and strengthen their ability to connect. While helping people gain a stronger sense of self-awareness, we also gain insight on how, when, and where to connect with others.
For those who want to dig deeper into being a more empathetic leader, they can do this by embracing open communication with their teams and allowing focused, face-to-face conversations with employees. Sometimes the only way to fully understand the wants, needs, and emotions of others is to open up and be vulnerable. When a person is honest about themselves, it creates an open space for others to do the same.
Company Empathy – The Strength of Benefits
As people are the heart of empathy, it can be more difficult for organizations to exhibit empathetic characteristics than it is for one-on-one relationships. A leader can have the ability of vicarious introspection, but how can an organization exhibit the same trait? Empathy can be achieved on both levels. Understanding what employees want and need can be shown by organizations through the way they treat employees to the benefits they offer.
According to the 2019 State of Workplace Empathy study, employees cited health, scheduling, and financial benefits as signs of more empathetic employers. For employees, 95% say family/work-life balance benefits, including daycare assistance and flexible work hours, are empathetic, while 94% believe paternity leave is empathetic. Whereas, 93% cite companies that offer extended bereavement leave are empathetic.
For the empathetic company, offering benefits isn’t merely a perk to help recruit top talent or the bare minimum to retain employees. Modern organizations understand that offering these types of benefits is necessary to create a deeper connection with their staff members. And, 78% of employees who feel connected and understood by their empathetic employer say they would work longer hours, being more productive than other organizations.
Culture of Inclusion and Diversity
Another way leaders and organizations show empathy to employees is by having a culture that embraces inclusion and diversity. Leaders come from all different backgrounds, ethnicity, and cultures, so it only seems fit to have a diverse leadership team. These types of teams tend to exude more connections with their employees. And, leadership tends to agree. According to the study, 90% of HR professionals and CEOs agree that companies are more empathetic with diversity in leadership. With a more diverse leadership, comes more paradigms and prospective, helping organizations connect with all types of employees.
Inclusion and diversity aren’t just important in leadership to show empathy, but leaders must embrace these actions organizationally. Creating a culture where employees feel included empowers team members to treat others around them with the same type of compassion. It starts with the top and filters through every facet of an organization.
The Power of Empathy
Embracing open communication and a drive to connect with others is the first step in becoming an empathetic leader and creating an organization that follows suit. The change doesn’t happen overnight, but through practice and patience, empathy can create ripple effects that will create a lasting impression on an organization as a whole. Of the five characteristics of emotional intelligence, empathy is the trait that changes the way a leader connects with others. By understanding you and your organization’s impact on your employees, you will be better fit to strategically plan, get employee buy-in, and lead a team that is empowered to be their best. All you have to do is put on someone else’s shoes.
How have you embraced empathy? What does your organization do to be more empathetic with employees? Let us know in the comments section below!