How to Cultivate Empathy in the Workplace

How to Cultivate Empathy in the Workplace

Why is cultivating empathy so crucial in today's work environment?  The COVID-19 pandemic helped underscore the need for companies to hire and develop supervisors who can steer the organization through good and bad times. Traditional management strategies are no longer sufficient. Organizations must foster the most critical skills for success in the modern workplace, and empathy is one of these core competencies. A good task manager does not make a good leader. To be a good leader, a supervisor must also be genuine, empathetic, and possess the ability to connect with people. 

In the past, some in the business world have viewed empathy as a skill that simply was not needed for a supervisor.  In other words, it was considered a non-essential soft skill.  However, recent studies indicate the opposite and show evidence that workplace empathy positively impacts job performance.  Research from the Society for Human Resource Management found that 97% of the CEOs surveyed agree that their actions directly impact workplace culture. 

Empathetic leadership is the ability to understand the needs and feelings of others.  While this might sound easy, it is not. An employee's culture and belief system might vary significantly from yours, making it difficult for you to understand a different perspective. However, as leaders, we know how important it is, so it's crucial to determine ways for supervisors to cultivate empathy in the workplace.  Keep reading for some ideas and tips that will help you not only develop but also improve empathy at your workplace.


3 Strategies to Help Supervisors Cultivate Empathy in the Workplace


1. Have Genuine Conversations

If you want to cultivate empathy in the workplace, the first thing you need to do is to start having more open and genuine conversations with your team.  It's important to know and understand what makes them tick. How do they feel about particular challenges, projects, or tasks? While it's important to understand their thoughts and feelings about work, it's just as important to learn about their lives outside of work.  What are their hobbies and interests?  What do they enjoy when they aren't at work?  You can use this information to have a genuine conversation with them.  People want to work with others who value and care about them.  

Supervisors and leaders must understand that the pandemic caused stress and burnout for many employees, and therefore, they must prioritize mental health with their teams. 

It isn't easy to have genuine one-on-one conversations with all your team members, so another idea is to create an open forum for employees to interact with each other. These meetings can be informal and unstructured. Create a safe space for others to show empathy over a variety of topics in the workplace. Topics could range from racism to childcare. Remember that the goal is not to reach a decisive outcome but to create an open arena for employees to have conversations that will ultimately lead to growth and change.  It's also important to ensure confidentiality within these open meetings and forums; otherwise, employees won't feel they can speak up and share their thoughts or opinions. 


2. Make Changes in Internal and External Marketing Strategies

While we're a bit removed from the COVID-19 Pandemic, we can look back on what emerged from it. For one, the pandemic completely changed how we view some things. For example, people now tend to stay home more for certain activities. Online shopping has increased while brick-and-mortar stores have been forced to close their doors. In addition to changes in our behavior, the pandemic also caused a shift in our mindset and viewpoints. Therefore, in our work environments, we must make that same shift.  Organizations can't risk looking insensitive; that is why empathy is so important.  For internal and external communications in the workplace, we need to rethink how things are stated and perceived. Organizations must strive to create genuine emotional appeal when creating their marketing strategies.  The same holds with supervisors.  Supervisors must reach the hearts and minds of their employees and understand what makes them tick.  Doing so will create a more engaged and productive workforce.  


3. Be Transparent

It isn't always easy to tell the "hard truth," but it is necessary for the workplace. Supervisors must remain transparent with their team members to earn and maintain their respect.  This means telling the truth during decision-making processes and ensuring the employees are up-to-date on any organization's challenges. Supervisors should be aware of the pros and cons of any situation and possible pitfalls; they must be willing to acknowledge difficult situations. Supervisors shouldn't minimize an issue by putting a positive spin on it. Being transparent and open with your team during difficult situations will be helpful.  In doing so, you might find employees have brilliant thoughts or ideas about a problem.  Ensure your team members feel your support when they bring up new ideas.  If employees feel supported by their supervisors and believe they want to hear their thoughts and ideas, other team members will start sharing more ideas. We, as humans, will speak candidly if we know that our opinions mean something.  Alternative perspectives are a great way to generate new ideas.  

Empathetic leadership can create a safe workplace, one where employees aren't afraid to talk about difficult topics and supervisors aren't afraid to tell the truth. Supervisors and organizations that excel in cultivating an empathic work environment will unquestionably excel in building lasting relationships with both employees and customers. Employees who know their supervisors value and care for them will return the favor by being more engaged and productive

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About the Author

Abby Galjour joined The American Equity Underwriters, Inc. in January 2020 as a Business Development Manager for AEU LEAD®. Prior to joining AEU, Abby was with DuPont Sustainable Solutions for 15 years where she worked with a variety of organizations to build sustainable employee safety solutions and helped employees assess risk and understand that safety is ingrained into everything they do. Abby received her B.B.A in both Marketing and Management from Radford University.

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