When you spend time and resources to recruit employees, obviously you want them to stay. Right? If so, empathy is a skill worth paying attention to. This is because empathetic leaders experience less turnover and are loved and appreciated by employees.
Empathy works for me in two ways. First, it helps me understand a person’s thoughts and point of view. It helps me ask myself, “What would I be thinking or feeling if I were this person right now?”
Second, it allows me to deepen my connections with others. By sharing my concern for them I naturally ask more questions. It helps me to learn more about their life. When it comes to my associates I learn about their worries, what’s happening in their families or stress at work. It helps me understand.
For my associates, the outcome is feeling heard and emotionally understood. It deepens our connection and trust.
Why empathy serves you even if you’re not a manager
Life is stressful right now for just about everyone. A study of more than 2,000 employees conducted at the end of March and early April 2020 in Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK and the US found that 65.9% of the people studied report higher stress levels and 57% report higher anxiety levels during and since the pandemic. And, it continues.
People are feeling financial pressure. Some feel stuck at home and lonely due to the social isolation the hybrid workforce brings. Others fear for job security. In the United States, child bearing age women fear for their health as family planning decisions are being ripped away in some states.
It is a vicious feedback loop. Worries and anxiety spill over affecting work performance. Then, when work becomes more stressful lives at home become more stressful. The options are to quit to work elsewhere. Another option facing families is to move out of state where women’s health choices are protected. This impacts job recruitment and an organization’s ability to grow. It also puts more stress on remaining employees causing the feedback loop to continue. Empathetic leaders help to short circuit the feedback loop.
Empathetic leaders benefit from three studies that support the emergence of the feedback loop.
• Research at Georgetown University found that incivility at work impacts how people collaborate and reduces how employees help one another. This ultimately results in increased turnover and disengagement.
• Research at the University of Illinois found that receiving rude and disrespectful emails at work creates negativity that is difficult to shake off and impacts relationships when an employee returns home.
• A study at Carleton University found that incivility at work impacts domestic duties that in turn impacts children.
The feedback loop is disruptable. What the workforce can control is the empathy level of both employees and leaders because empathy is a skill that can be taught.
Empathy is a skill
In a study conducted in the healthcare industry, it was learned that a student’s level of empathy falls in medical school. The study asserts that empathy is less of a soft skill than it is a human response based on neural biology.
The researchers concluded that, “Empathy plays a critical interpersonal and societal role, enabling sharing of experiences, needs, and desires between individuals and providing an emotional bridge that promotes pro-social behavior. This capacity requires an exquisite interplay of neural networks and enables us to perceive the emotions of others, resonate with them emotionally and cognitively, to take in the perspective of others, and to distinguish between our own and others’ emotions.”
The study also claims that cognitive empathy must prevail when there is an absence of emotional empathy due to racial, ethnic, religious, or physical differences.
How to build empathy
The following strategies help you build empathy naturally.
- Become more curious
Curiosity opens the mind to learning. It also prompts questions to ask so you can more adequately understand the perspective or circumstances of another person. Curiosity removes judgment while building connections. It is a power tool for learning to listen more deeply and gain unique insights into another person.
So what can you do?
Look around you in the workplace. Are you aware of other’s emotional states? Are you aware of their stresses and struggles? If not, why not? Be more motivated to find out more. Once you are comfortable in learning more about people, then it will be easier for you to build empathy between employees on your team.
- Insist on a civil and positive work environment
TIGERS 6 Principles research concluded that all high performance work cultures have measurable levels of trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk resolution and success visibly working for them based on how people treat one another daily. The workforce is happier, healthier and more helpful and collaborative.
So when you see bullying, gossip, and basic mistreatment of others, stop these behaviors in their tracks.
The problem is that when people are stressed and reacting defensively to the world around them, they forget momentarily how to be decent people. When moments extend into days, cruelty towards others becomes a habit.
This is why we developed leadership behavior training that supports trust building, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk resolution and success in the workplace. It is designed to help leaders build these behaviors within themselves and on their teams.
The bottom line is that life circumstances are in flux for everyone. It is important for you to understand the impact on your employees.
- Commit to checking in personally with your employees. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them how the family is. Ask if everyone is healthy or if anyone is waking up at night worrying about things. Express your concern for their wellbeing and show them that you care.
- Pay attention to what you are hearing. Nod to indicate you are listening and remain curious.
- Ask them what they need on the job to feel more successful so they can leave work at work.
- Ask them if they are hitting any barriers that make work more difficult. You have the power to minimize their work frustrations.
- Acknowledge an employee’s good work. Be specific about what you see them do that you appreciate so they feel recognized for their contributions.
The scientific studies, research and complimentary training hyperlinked in this blog point to how important empathy skills are in building positive relationships and more successful work communities. This is the future of work. You do not have to be a neuroscientist in order to demonstrate that you care about others. Building empathy is as simple as paying attention to others and listening to them with curiosity and removing work barriers if you have the power to do so.
Care to dig deeper into the topic of empathetic leadership?
Here are some resources to consider:
- The TIGERS 6 Principles Deliver Psychological Safety to High Performance Teams
- Leading with Empathy in the Hybrid Workplace
- Do You Have Empathy for Leaders?
- Why Empathy Is A Critical Skill for Workplace Success
Copyright TIGERS Success Series Inc. by Dianne Crampton
About the TIGERS 6 Principles™ System
TIGERS 6 Principles™ comprehensive system builds collaborative work culture, develops employee focused leaders, and provides employee development training to the workforce. Manager, Consultant and Coach licensing is available to deploy the TIGERS 6 Principles in their organizations and with clients. The system measurably improves Trust, Interdependence, Genuineness, Empathy, Risk resolution and Success behaviors on teams for high performance hybrid and intact team outcomes. TIGERS is a recognized SRHM Recertification Provider located in Bend, Oregon.