Disengaged employees are an avoidable workforce development mistake that has a huge impact on the bottom line. According to a Gallup poll, disengagement costs the US economy an estimated $450 to $500 billion annually. These lost earnings can be found in the cost of employee turnover, lost productivity, missed days of work and even stolen goods. Of the TIGERS 6 Principles™ that impact disengagement the most, empathy is the prize winner. Empathy training offers a positive return on investment.
Disengagement problems boil down to a lack of empathy in the workplace. An empathetic working environment filters from the top down, so many empathy problems are rooted in a lack of empathy from leaders within the organization. Team members are more likely to be empathetic toward others and to clients when the behavior is modeled for them by others, especially their leaders. So leaders can attack apathetic attitudes by engaging in empathetic attitudes themselves, which can increase employee satisfaction and engagement levels, as well as company profitability.
Reduce risk and improve employee happiness and performance with empathy
By mindfully employing empathy as a leader, you can increase employee happiness and productivity in the workplace.
Acknowledge your own mistakes.
Part of being an empathetic leader is identifying your own weaknesses so that you can relate to your team members. No one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes, but it’s what we do with those mistakes that matter. When mistakes happen, many people will pass the blame onto others, minimize the importance of their mistake or even deny that a mistake occurred, but none of these approaches solve the problem or ease concerns. The best way people can handle mistakes is through an empathetic approach that reasons through the impact on others. It’s by putting themselves in someone else’s shoes that empathetic understanding surfaces. When you understand how you would feel if the situation was flipped, you’re more likely to address the problem head-on and apologize face-to-face. This is the most effective approach to take when mistakes happen, but unfortunately only 21 percent of people employ this tactic. Those who do employ this method, however, are 42 percent more likely to love their positions, suggesting that an empathetic approach is the most beneficial for all parties involved.
Leave your judgments at the door.
One of the biggest roadblocks for empathetic leadership is preconceived judgments and not fully listening when others speak. Building a genuine and empathetic work environment encourages respectful, open speech without fear of repercussion. Leaders also need to build their own reputation of unbiased and authentic listening so that team members know that when they come to you, they will be heard and understood. By creating an environment in which team members feel comfortable enough to share important information with you without fear of being judged, you are better able to create positive relationships with your team members. These types of relationships are important because trust and respect are soon to follow, creating an environment with three of the six TIGERS(R) principles that build high performance teams present. The three principles we just mentioned are trust, genuineness and empathy.
Participate in empathy training.
According to a survey conducted by the TIGERS® Success Series, 52.5 percent of HR personnel recognize that empathy is very important in their workplace, but 43.5 percent do not include empathy as part of their talent development directives. So even though many respondents understand the importance of empathy, most do not understand how best to train for it. Many respondents reported offering emotional intelligence training for executives, which is a subset of empathy training, but it does not teach leaders how to gain the necessary curiosity to drive to understand another person’s perspective. For the most part, leaders are the most important factor for employee disengagement levels, so if leaders aren’t practicing empathetic leadership, they are creating the culture they most want to avoid. Through empathy training, leaders can instead create a thriving work environment that focuses on blossoming talent and cultivating growth, which is good for both employees and the organization as a whole.
Other TIGERS® suggestions for developing leadership empathy involves reading short stories because reading is an engaging activity that places the readers in situations that ignite imagination. For example, researchers at the New School for Social Research discovered that fiction literature improves mental health. Specifically they discovered that short stories provide a link to to imagining what the story characters were thinking or feeling. In the debrief of the story, further empathy development occurs as people listen to one another and learn from the exchange.
Other activities include showing pictures of faces in various states of emotion and asking participants to identify the feeling and emotion that might be experienced. Another is empathetic listening training found in many good coaching programs.
Empathy, as a leadership tool, is one of the most important and most overlooked aspects of effective leadership. A lack of empathy in the workplace can lead to disengaged employees, which can cost the US economy an estimated $450 to $500 billion annually. That’s a significant amount, but through proper training and strategic planning, leaders can greatly reduce the amount of lost revenue and increase employee satisfaction. A lack of empathy in the workplace typically starts at the top and trickles its way throughout the entire organization, so leaders should first address their own lack of empathy before confronting their employees. Some strategies include acknowledging your own mistakes, leaving your judgments at the door and participating in empathy training. With these strategies, leaders can improve their own empathy levels, as well as improve empathy throughout the workplace.
Some additional resources to flush out this conversation
- Don’t Hide Your Face When You Make a Mistake, Jump Right Back Into That Situation
- How Being More Empathetic Can Make You a Better Leader
- US Leaders Know Empathy Is Important But Don’t Know How to Deploy It
- The Future of Workers’ Compensation Must Focus on Recovery and Return to Work
- Complimentary Webcast: Empathy – A Critical Element of an Engaged Workplace
- TIGERS Among Us – Winning Business Team Cultures and Why They Thrive
Copyright TIGERS Success Series, Inc. by Dianne Crampton
TIGERS® Success Series is a Bend, Oregon Team and Work Culture Development Consulting firm offering a robust, comprehensive, behavior-based group development system that can help you track your ROI for change and workforce development initiatives. We train your team to expertly build and grow your business through teams for improved revenue, purpose and impact. Call US 1-877-538-2822 or International 1+ 541-385-7465 for more information.