Employer Branding

What is Employee-Level Empathy and What Can Your Company Do to Achieve it?

The importance of empathy within a business context is an emerging trend. So much so, the Harvard Business Review shared the Empathy Index for businesses, which attempts to determine how empathetic your company is and whether empathy levels affect commercial success.

So what do we mean by empathy at work? Empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the emotions or experiences of others. Empathy is the ability to step into someone else’s shoes, be aware of their feelings and understand their needs.

In the workplace, empathy is about showing respect for employees and co-workers. It is about a company’s managers showing that they care about their employees as human beings, recognizing they have lives outside of work.

In our one-on-one conversations with exceptional professionals, empathy was one of the most talked about topics. A phrase that kept coming up was “profits over people.” Employees are very sensitive to this notion. Either you are “people first” or you are “profit first.” The challenge is that sometimes a company or an employer brand says they are “people first,” but the company’s actions and communications say otherwise.

There is no greater intelligence than kindness and empathy. Most corporate missions and values speak to how the company will work to ensure the full satisfaction of its customers, but they have failed to realize that it starts with the workforce.  Rita Kandamkalam, Media Professional

Corporate versus employee

Employees talk about two different types of empathy at work — corporate empathy and employee empathy. Corporate empathy is how the company shows compassion for outside initiatives such as social causes, volunteer programs and environmental conservation. Most companies are aware that having a social cause is important to employees.  

I say, pick a volunteer position, a mentorship, a charity or a cause that you feel passionate about and give it as much time as you can. Even if it’s 3 hours a week, that’s 156 hours of your help by the end of the year! – Lisa McCann, The Engine is Red.

But what about the employees’ everyday experiences at work?  While employees appreciate and expect corporate causes, they also desire a spirit of empathy inside the work environment from the top down. This means that the leaders of the organization need to manage and lead through a lens of empathy, where the employee’s well-being and concerns are taken into account during the decision-making process.

If I could fix the corporate world, I would start with putting people in leadership who are less interested in huge salaries and bonuses and are more interested in creating a culture of true respect and harmony, open and honest communication, healthy and engaging conflict, and ultimately with the understanding that without their people, the company wouldn’t be what it is. – Irina Dzubinsky, Tech professional

How to create an empathetic culture

A critical aspect of developing an empathetic culture is for managers to have a clear understanding of the mandate and consistently lead by example. An empathetic culture must come from the top down for it to successfully spread throughout the entire organization.

Re-evaluate your internal communications strategies to ensure there is an empathy lens on every message, especially on issues around profits, employee programs and corporate policies.  

An empathetic corporate culture is not easy to achieve overnight. It takes time and a cultural commitment . Spend time learning about the concerns and needs of employees.

Managers should set a tone and find a balance between people and profits. When managers take others’ feelings and opinions into account throughout the workday, they build a deeper connection with their colleagues. This leads to stronger loyalty and trust, which are the building blocks for improved retention and employee advocacy.  

Not to mention, empathy usually leads to business success.

Assume the best in others. Know what makes them tick. Serve their needs. Accept responsibility. Assume the best intentions – Doug Heckman, sales professional.

About the author: Jonas Fischer is co-founder of PeerCulture, a place where exceptional employees share their stories to help employers learn and evolve.

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