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The Urgent Need for Empathy In the Workplace

Posted by JJ Puentes

Feb 16, 2021 9:38:00 AM

Alert woman sitting with her therapist talking to her in a private sessionEmpathy is the ability to understand someone else’s feelings. It is a prerequisite for compassion. In 2021, compassion is in more demand than ever.

While empathy might not come up very often in business discussions, the importance of empathy in the workplace is backed up by data. The Businessolver State of Empathy in the Workplace study found:

  • 82% of employees would consider leaving their job for a more empathetic employer.
  • 78% of employees would work longer hours for an empathetic employer.


The Empathy Gap

The study revealed that more CEOs than ever before understand the value of workplace empathy, but they consistently overate themselves and the organization. Just over 92% of CEOs say their organization is empathetic, but only 72% of employees agree, and that’s down 6% from previous years. The reason for the gap may be that many CEOs don’t know how to exhibit empathy to their employees. In fact, 58% of CEOs reported that they struggle with consistently demonstrating empathy in the workplace. Employees agree. They consistently rate their peers as more empathetic than their CEO.

CEOs and other leaders who do find ways to practice empathy enjoy these benefits.

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Benefits of Practicing Empathy

Empathy Strengthens Trust

Trust is an essential element in achieving the organization’s vision. People yearn to feel respected and appreciated for their contributions. When employers demonstrate compassion, employees can be more authentic.

When employees trust leaders and invest in the organization’s vision, they are more open to change. In fact, beyond just accepting change, a trusting environment allows employees to become the instigators of positive change.

Empathy Encourages Ownership

One does not have to own shares in a company to develop an ownership mentality. When empathy and compassion are present throughout an organization, everyone begins to feel like an “owner.” Beyond just taking ownership in the company, team members take ownership of problems and processes. Continuous improvement becomes personal. What was just a job becomes an emotional priority.

Empathy Results in Longevity

Just as employees report being willing to leave for a more empathetic employer, they stick around for those that are. When people feel like their needs, both practical and emotional, are being met, turnover goes down. The benefits of longevity for both the employer and employee are profound. Growth within the organization is ideal for both.

Empathy Produces Results

When a business shows compassion and understanding for their employees, team members reflect those same values to the customers, partners, coworkers, and community they contact. Empathy contributes to the ability to form high functioning teams and quality cross-functional collaboration

Empathy Stimulates Innovation

When empathy is present, people are more likely to take risks. The most successful organizations know that innovation isn’t just about developing new products; it’s about finding better ways to do every task and improving processes by eliminating waste. Innovation can come from every employee, and they are more likely to contribute when they feel safe and understood.

Given all of the advantages, it pays for leaders to devote some critical thinking to creating a culture of empathy. There are several effective ways to start.

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Ways to Practice Empathy


Actively Listen

The Gallup State of the American Workplace report reveals that 30% of employees feel that their opinion doesn’t matter. This belief is antithetical to innovation and improvement. Active listening requires more than just hearing or reading the words; it involves acknowledging the input and taking action if warranted. Improvement management software is one method of active listening where employee ideas are evaluated and implemented. Active listing in one to one interactions is equally important.

Ask Empathy-Driven Questions

One way to signal to people that you are concerned about their well-being is to ask questions that uncover how you might help. For example, “What obstacles are preventing you from doing your best work?

Spend Time in the Workplace

There’s a Lean management practice called Gemba Walks that involves supervisors going to the place where work is done to observe, show respect, and identify improvement opportunities. This approach is an excellent way to get a first-hand view of the challenges faced in the workplace. It demonstrates to employees that you are interested in seeing the situation from their point of view.

Avoid Making Assumptions

It is common for managers and leaders to assume that problems are caused by human error or employee disengagement. However, most problems are system problems, so it pays to ask why rather than place blame. Looking for solutions to root-cause problems, rather than assuming the worst of people, will reduce defensiveness and help you find problems and correct them before they become out of control.

The “amount” of empathy in an organization isn’t something that can be measured like process data on a control chart, but it is just as real. Employees may not even define how they recognize it, but they absolutely know it when they see it. Organizations that practice it maximizes their most important resource, human potential.

Topics: Leadership, Improvement Culture

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