Historically, empathy has not been a driving force in most workplace cultures. While plenty of organizations have placed value on creating positive, collaborative work environments, they have often considered employees' personal lives to be separate. This could explain why a recent Businessolver study found that only one in four employees feel their companies are sufficiently empathetic.
Over the past year and a half, empathy has become more important in the workplace. The COVID-19 pandemic broke down many of the barriers between individuals' work and home lives. Employees and managers were given an unprecedented glimpse into each other's personal lives in a literal sense, thanks to Zoom. This collective experience prompted everyone to be more understanding and open about individual struggles.
As a result, demonstrating empathy in the workplace switched from a rarity to a regular occurrence. And leaders took note of what changed: According to the same Businessolver study, 84% of CEOs believe empathy drives better business outcomes. But there's still a disconnect between what employees and leaders are saying about their company cultures. To keep (and attract) talent moving forward, companies will need to make empathy a priority.
Why is empathy important in the workplace? Prioritizing empathy can seem at odds with the need to maximize productivity. After all, having empathy in the workplace means balancing practical responsibilities with employees' personal concerns. This might mean being more understanding about circumstances that could lead to late deadlines, missed meetings, or delayed phone calls.
Even taking into account these small hits to productivity, incorporating empathy can ultimately produce a happier, more productive office. According to Gartner, managers who show high levels of empathy can impact employee performance three times better than those who don't. The ability to balance accountability with warmth and empathy, it turns out, is the key to achievement and creating high-performance teams and cultures.
Empathy opens the door to a work environment that leads to better outcomes for everyone. In other words, demonstrating empathy is more than just a good practice - it's an effective talent management strategy.
Companies will need to emphasize empathy in the hiring process going forward. For instance, rather than look for someone who can simply fill a particular role, human resource managers must consider how candidates' unique needs and situations will match with the managers they'll be working with. People work best when they feel like they're working with their bosses, not for them.
It's important for companies to prioritize empathy as the world transitions into the next normal. Even as more employees go back to in-person interactions and physical offices, the collective experience of the past two years lingers in people's memories. Employees won't forget what it was like when their companies showed that they cared.
At Harrison Assessments, we believe people perform better when they're engaged at work and doing what they love. Reach out today to learn more about how our talent solutions and tools can help HR create a more empathetic, productive workplace for current and future employees.