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Cultivating an Empathetic Workplace Culture

three women smiling while sitting across from one another at office desk

Empathy. It’s a demonstration of genuine concern for the well-being of others, yet it’s a concept that is severely lacking in the modern workforce. In this environment, empathy is often dismissed as a negative “buzzword” — that is, empathy is viewed as an overly-sensitive response to the needs and concerns of co-workers. However, despite a somewhat negative perception of workplace empathy, its value is undeniable.

Empathy: Essential, Yet Underrated:

Business Solver conducted a survey to determine the usefulness of empathy and found that a staggering 72% of CEOs felt that empathy should evolve to meet the needs of a changing workforce. However, 58% of workers, managers, and recruiters alike felt challenged by the prospect of demonstrating empathy to others in this environment. Ultimately, an empathetic workplace is, indeed, crucial to a company’s or business’s success, and 93% of employees affirm that they are far more likely to remain with a company if it’s operated by an empathetic management team.

Why Empathy Matters:

Although it’s easy to recognize the hypothetical need for empathy in the workforce, a living example is “worth 1,ooo words,” as Jacqueline McElhone demonstrates in her article, “Empathy at Work–Why It (Really) Matters.” According to McElhone, empathy should be recognized as a testament of corporate strength. She affirms its value in everyday situations, such as when scheduling issues arise or when editing a project that could otherwise be intimidating. McElhone further explains that empathy improves productivity and job retention rates due to the natural development of a more diverse, welcoming workplace. Empathy promotes a free exchange of ideas since workers feel valued as individuals with unique needs and input. The outcome ultimately leads to greater job satisfaction, which contributes to a more positive work environment overall. Customers are happier, too, since their needs and feedback are highly regarded by an empathetic company.

Putting it All Together: How to Change the Current Structure

McElhone further explores the practical means of demonstrating empathy in the workforce, starting with the development of a “teamwork” culture, instead of a hierarchical one. By minimizing the distance between employer and employee, a stronger bridge of trust is created — one that encourages active listening, respect, and gratitude.

The integration of empathy into the workplace is a gradual process. The following are 4 pivotal qualities of a more empathetic workforce culture:

1. Active Listening: 

Quality listening is essential to building trust and fostering relationships among team members. Employers need to create a support network for employees with a strong “open door” policy that encourages employees to regularly ask questions and provide input. One method to encourage more engagement is to provide opportunities to ask questions of workers and customers. Directly posing questions encourages critical thinking and encourages everyone to participate in meaningful conversations. Listening builds trust and affirms that each and every employee is respected and valuable to the operation of a business or company.

2. Discernment: 

Asking questions and listening help employers to discern events and situations in order to prioritize needs. More urgent situations should obviously be prioritized over smaller issues. For instance, if a worker is in a crisis, regardless of “who came first,” that individual’s concern should be dealt with first.

3. A Non-Judgmental Attitude:

To encourage empathy, it’s important to drop bias in order to view individuals equally and respectfully. Whether one is consciously or subconsciously biased, the impacts of personal bias are active and often dangerous to company culture. Eliminating all forms of bias encourages employers to value the opinions of each and every customer, regardless of status or socioeconomic background. Getting to know co-workers is huge step toward humanizing them — that is, to view them as unique, gifted individuals who offer valuable contributions to the team.

4. An Understanding Attitude:

The very heart of the definition of empathy essentially means to alter perception so that one can truly feel what someone else is experiencing. Unlike sympathy, which implies a sort of “looking down” to recognize the impact of a situation, empathy takes a step forward and actually places someone in the emotionally and physically reactive state of another individual. The act of empathizing isn’t limited to the employer/employee relationship. Co-workers of similar status should respect one another and treat one another with patience and understanding to foster a more effective team of workers who truly care and support one another, instead of harboring a spirit of self-absorbed competitiveness.

A Final Word:

Empathy in the workforce is a valuable tool for building effective work environments. The goal is to encourage open communication and active listening so that each and every worker knows his/her unique value and vital contribution to the success of a business or company.

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