The COVID-19 pandemic has severely tested people – physically, mentally, and emotionally. Stress levels and negative emotions have reached new heights. In fact, a Gallup survey in 2020 showed that 40% of respondents experienced stress. Things became worse in 2021, with 67% of workers surveyed by Indeed saying that their feelings of burnout increased during the pandemic.
The rise of remote working has also broken down the boundaries between work and home. Parents often work from home while looking after children, which is challenging. As a result, employees expect their managers to be flexible and understanding. This means leaders need to see the world through their employees’ eyes. In short, to have empathy and build an empathetic workplace.
With empathy becoming more critical than ever before, it’s essential to know how practicing it will benefit your company and what you need to do to foster empathy in your organization.
Benefits of practicing empathy
Empathy is an individual’s ability to understand other people’s thoughts, feelings, and needs. So, when managers and employees regularly practice empathy, they begin to appreciate one another, trust one another. This leads to stronger connections, which are crucial to organizational success and has many benefits:
Building an empathetic working environment is crucial to retention in this current climate. For example, according to the 2021 State of Workplace Empathy Study, 90% of Gen-Zers said they would stay with an empathetic employer.
Individual employees feel supported and valued when they empathize with one another and receive empathy from their leaders and managers. These feelings then drive them to perform their roles at high levels and go that extra mile. And because empathy enhances relationships, employees will work more closely together to improve the performance of the team and the organization.
Empathetic employees listen more, ask questions, give each other their undivided attention, and are more open about their feelings. When this happens, managers and coworkers understand each other better and build the confidence to communicate freely and authentically. Practicing empathy also enables them to talk openly about problems and help each other solve them.
Improves customer service
Herb Kelleher, the legendary founder of Southwest Airlines, understood that if a company cares for its employees, the employees will care for its customers. If employees experience empathy, they will treat their customers with empathy. Empathetic employees can listen attentively to customers, which helps them gain a deep understanding of their problems. That deep understanding allows them to find more creative solutions to those problems.
In addition, listening to and understanding a client’s concerns makes them feel valued. In turn, they are more likely to recommend your company to their friends and family. A 2018 Motista Study revealed that customers who feel emotionally connected are 26% more likely to recommend your brand to others and have a 306% higher lifetime value. (link to: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-retail-study-shows-marketers-under-leverage-emotional-connection-300720049.html)
Stronger relationships with managers and colleagues
Empathy involves knowing more about your coworkers and understanding them, including their lives outside work. This makes it more likely for managers and team members to get to see each other’s human side. When this happens, rapport and trust build naturally. It also drives your employees to act in each other’s (and the company’s) best interests.
Building empathy in an organization
Practice empathetic leadership
Creating a culture of empathy starts from the top and involves leadership’s efforts to understand employees’ needs. More specifically, empathetic leadership shows a genuine interest in an employee’s individual goals and needs. Understanding those goals enables leaders to match employees with projects that contribute the most to their job satisfaction and performance.
Empathetic leaders also more quickly identify signs of burnout. They regularly check in with employees, asking them how they’re coping with the workload and taking measures to help them recover from overwork.
While empathy comes naturally to some more than others, you can teach the skill. Leaders and managers can improve empathy skills through coaching and training. Employees should also be encouraged to develop empathy skills.
Teach and encourage active listening
A crucial part of empathy is having a deep sense of another person’s perspective, feelings, and problems. So, it’s essential that you teach your managers and employees active listening. This means getting them skilled in focusing and understanding what the other person is saying rather than their immediate response. Active listening is also about looking at the speaker’s tone of voice and body language to find any hidden messages in the communication. When managers practice active listening, they truly understand their employees’ problems. Workers who are listened to and understood feel respected, which builds trust within the team. Employees can also practice active listening with each other and their customers, strengthening relationships.
Understand different perspectives
Empathy encourages your employees to look at problems from another person’s point of view. A large part of this is hiring workers of different ethnicities, races, and ages. Diversity can bring a range of unique perspectives, solutions, and ideas. Gaining a deep understanding of different perspectives helps manage conflict and problem solving and drives innovation.
Understand how your clients think
You can do this by getting your employees to ‘ditch the sales script’ and allow customers to share their problems openly. This gives clients the floor to discuss unexpected or new challenges. So, encourage your customer-facing staff to listen, understand, and provide answers to their problems. You can also take customer empathy a step further and spend time with them to see your product or service in use. This can help you proactively identify problems or creative enhancements.
Personalize your communications
Another critical aspect of practicing empathy is to adapt communications to your different audiences. By adjusting your language to specific individuals or groups, you demonstrate that you’ve made an effort to understand them and their needs.
With all the recent challenges managers, employees, and customers face, building an empathetic organization has become more critical than ever before. But, to truly create an empathetic culture, employees at all levels of the organization need to develop empathy skills. Active listening skills, seeing things from the perspective of others, and personalizing communications are essential. Success in building an empathetic workplace can strengthen relations between managers, employees, and customers, leading to improvements in business performance. What’s more, it will help your organization be more resilient to the future challenges that lie ahead.