How to Build More Empathy in Your Workplace

  • Author: Melanie Haniph

Empathy is one of the traits that make us human. It allows us to walk in others’ shoes, so we can relate to their emotions and experiences and understand them better.

When you build more empathy in your workplace, you don’t just gain a deeper understanding of your employees. You also drive a more positive employee experience. By weaving more empathy into your workplace culture, you help employees feel heard and create more opportunities for them to connect and build mutual trust and respect.

5 Steps to Build More Empathy in Your Workplace

A recent study conducted by Catalyst found that empathy is a critical driver of positive employee outcomes such as innovation, engagement, and inclusion. It offers employees the support they need to manage burnout, stress, and distractions that impair their productivity. 

However, empathy doesn’t always happen naturally, and you can even struggle to infuse enough of it into your workplace. According to a Businessolver survey, only one in four employees said there was sufficient empathy in their organization.

Building a workplace where employees and leaders demonstrate empathy requires deliberate action. Consider taking the following steps to build more empathy in your workplace:

1. Examine your internal policies and practices

It’s no secret that the pandemic has created a range of mental health concerns for employees everywhere. To be more empathetic to their challenges, make sure your internal policies and practices recognize the realities employees now face in our WFH world. 

To see where you may have policy gaps to address, ask the following questions:

  • What support is available to employees who are struggling with their mental health?
  • Do our existing policies meet current employee needs for flexibility and work-life balance?
  • Have we built a culture that respects diverse employee emotions, ideas, and perspectives?

2. Look for signs that your workplace doesn’t have enough empathy

Though you may be offering a range of benefits and activities to employees, you can still be short on empathy. If you’re experiencing any of the following, a lack of empathy could be the culprit:

  • Burned out employees
  • Negative employee survey feedback
  • Low engagement
  • High turnover among women and underrepresented groups

3. Teach managers and employees how to show empathy

In both good and stressful times, managers play a powerful role in cultivating empathy in the workplace. By providing feedback, coaching, and understanding, managers deepen the connection with members of their team and help them overcome obstacles to positive wellbeing and performance.

You can empower your managers to demonstrate empathy by encouraging them to take the following actions:

  • Meeting regularly with each person they manage and showing genuine interest in their emotions and experiences
  • Following up on words of empathy with action, such as referrals to company benefits and resources
  • Using active listening skills in employee interactions

4. Show that you care when employees suffer a personal loss

Personal losses, such as a death in the family or serious illness, offer additional opportunities to build more empathy in your workplace. While you probably offer sick, disability, bereavement, and other leaves, you also need to show some empathy when employees are going through tough times. You can do this by considering the space and time they need to grieve and organize their personal lives after a tragedy or other major life event. 

A great example is bereavement leave. Though your organization may offer two or three days of bereavement leave, consider if this policy is enough. Does it take into account the extra time employees may need to travel out of state for a funeral? Do employees have support to secure a backup to fill in for them while they are out? By asking these kinds of questions, you can show additional empathy and support to employees during a personal crisis.

5. Seek out diverse employee voices and experiences

An excellent way to demonstrate empathy is to recognize the diversity in your workforce. By promoting DEI programs and activities that highlight various employee experiences, you can create a culture where multiple perspectives are valued, and people from diverse backgrounds can develop a sense of belonging. For example, you could post diverse employee stories to your company intranet and offer training to help employees recognize and eliminate unconscious bias.

Boosting empathy in your workplace can help employees feel more engaged and included in your culture. By taking deliberate action to help leaders and employees show more empathy, you can create an environment where employees feel respected, valued, and heard.

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