Who Cares? Why Empathy In The Workplace Is More Important Than Ever

People have changed, workplaces have changed and we have to adapt to these new realities. This means cultivating workplaces that are more empathetic, responding to the needs of employees and customers and valuing diversity.

businessmen walking

Bob Dylan wrote "The times they are a-changin'" in 1964, but that sentiment has never been more relevant than post-pandemic. People returning to work today are like soldiers returning from battle. No one was left untouched by the pandemic; many struggled with health and financial issues. People have changed, workplaces have changed and we have to adapt to these new realities.

This means cultivating workplaces that are more empathetic, responding to the needs of employees and customers and valuing diversity. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, to "walk in someone else's shoes." It is different from sympathy, where you understand and feel sorry for someone's misfortune. Empathy means experiencing someone else's feelings, and it is more emotional than intellectual.

Create Channels Of Communication

In order to understand what your employees really want and need, you have to open channels of communication. These need to be two-way systems where leadership is responsive to employee suggestions. Employees want to feel seen and heard. Benefits such as mental health leave, paid family time or remote work options demonstrate to employees that you are committed to their well-being. At my company, our employees asked for more time for community service, so we instituted a program where we provide one week of paid time off so they can volunteer at their favorite charity.

The Impact Of Gen Z

It's always been crucial for leaders to be honest and transparent. The changing face of the workforce has now made it essential. As Gen Z moves into the labor force, they bring with them their desire for more authenticity, two-way dialogue and responsiveness to their ideas.

How Empathy Impacts Job Performance

We are beginning to see the impact of empathy in the workplace. After all, this is where most of us spend the majority of our waking hours. If we spend those hours in a culture of compassion, we are more likely to feel connected to our co-workers and be more productive. A study conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership in 2007 found that leaders who demonstrated empathy had better job performance.

Empathy is also important for employees. One significant way your business is positively impacted by employees learning and demonstrating empathy is their care of your customers. You can't give away what you don't have.

Empathy Can Be Learned

While some people are naturally empathetic, the good news for everyone else is that empathy can be learned. Once people learn the benefits of empathy, they may be more inclined to try to be empathetic. Training and coaching can help, as can modeling empathetic behavior.

As a leader, learning to be a good listener is key to making employees feel respected and valued. It's important to pay attention to nonverbal cues as well, like tone of voice and posture. Ask questions to make sure you properly understand. We all have the ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes, but it may take some practice to get used to walking in them.

Shareholder Value Versus Stakeholder Value

By making these changes, companies are moving from a philosophy of shareholder value to one of stakeholder value. A shareholder owns part of a public company through shares of stock. Success in terms of shareholder value is measured by earnings and share price appreciation. A stakeholder may be an employee, a customer or even a supplier who has an interest in company performance for other reasons. For example, a supplier may have a majority of their revenue tied up in a company, or an employee may have their retirement plan linked to the long-term success of their company. When we expand our definition of success to include the satisfaction of our employees and customers, we create a culture where people feel valued. This, in turn, creates employees who are engaged and productive.

Are your employees and other stakeholders feeling valued and heard? Are your communication channels open and responsive? Are you cultivating a culture of compassion?

As author Daniel Pink says, "Empathy is about standing in someone else's shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place." What will you do today as a leader to create greater empathy in your business?

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