Building a Culture of Empathy In Your Company

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What does empathy at work mean?

What does empathy at work really mean? Empathy is the ability to experience and understand the emotions or experiences of others. It's seeing through the lens of another person's life and putting yourself in their shoes.

Empathy is not only important between leadership and employees, but also employees showing respect to their co-workers. Recognize that employees are humans too and that they have lives outside of work that can impact their performance, mood and personality both positively and negatively.

81% of employees would be willing to work longer hours if they felt their employer was empathetic. The actions and communication style of leadership is essential to set the stage, ensuring empathy and understanding radiates throughout the workforce. A healthy corporate culture leads to better retention, increased employee satisfaction and a more collaborative and successful company.

Why it matters

In recent years, empathy has been a trending topic when it comes to employee wellbeing and experience. The days of “profit over people” are over. Employees now demand respect and understanding from leadership when it comes to work-life harmony. Lower engagement, turnover and poor performance are symptoms of a toxic company culture.

There is a gap between leadership and employees when it comes to empathy in the workplace. 92% of CEOs report that their organization is empathetic. However, only 50% of employees say their CEO is empathetic. Don’t turn a blind eye on empathy at work, as it’s the foundation of trust, communication and happiness.

How to create a culture of empathy  

An empathetic corporate culture cannot be built in a day; it takes time, cultural commitment and trust.

Understand your workforce

The first step to understanding is to actually spend time learning about the concerns and needs of your employees. It’s hard to empathize with others if you don’t take the time to get to know your workforce, hear what they have to say and get feedback on what changes need to occur to benefit everyone.

An anonymous employee feedback survey, conducting one-on-one’s, and taking a good look at the current state of the company culture and employee expectations is an excellent start to begin seeing through the lens of your workforce.

Set guidelines and expectations

Establish guidelines and expectations for both leadership and employees surrounding how to deal with difficult situations such as mental health, employee conflict, communication misunderstandings or performance issues.

For example, a normally high-performing employee may be unknowingly suffering from a personal issue, affecting their motivation and drive. On the surface, it may be grounds for termination, however approaching with empathy, and trying to understand why the change occurred by communicating, puts the employee first.

"Take time to talk to people and hear their stories, know who the important people in their lives are, and most importantly, learn what people's goals in life are outside work," Mike Seidle, co-founder of WorkHere.

Both employees and management should have a clear understanding of the mandate and lead by example. It’s vital that an empathetic culture starts from the top down, for it to be adopted successfully by everyone in the organization.

Re-evaluate processes

Audit your current internal communication and operational procedures to ensure that there is an empathy and inclusion lens on every message, especially surrounding employee programs, benefits and corporate policies. Consider hiring a professional consultant that will be able to see into your company from an objective point of view without bias.

Make it genuine

Give employees the freedom and safe space to express themselves and share how they’re feeling, without the fear of being reprimanded. For example, you could give your employees a paid mental health or wellness day—no questions asked. Shows your employees you care about their wellbeing beyond the work they produce.

When leadership can find a balance between people and profits, they can build genuine relationships with their colleagues, resulting in stronger loyalty and trust.

Don’t just implement strategies to check off the “empathy box.” Understanding, communication, and genuinely investing in your employee's wellbeing will help develop a robust empathetic culture.  

EmpathyPaige Eaton