We all know that empathy is the ability to understand and share others’ feelings. At the workplace, empathy is the ability to understand colleagues and be sensitive to their ideas, unique perspectives and working styles. Therefore, empathetic leaders manage to create an environment that fosters respect, trust and loyalty. When leaders are genuinely understanding of the needs of their employees, they are more likely to inspire their team and gain their complete support. But how many leaders are genuinely empathetic?
According to the OC Tanner Global Culture Report, 47 per cent employees feel that their leaders hardly follow through when it comes to the promises they make.
Only about 59 per cent of employees feel their leaders follow up their expressions of empathy with meaningful action and support. That isn’t all. Only about 58 per cent of organisations take action to improve after receiving employee feedback.
The report reveals that meaningless and empty empathy is not what employees seek. It is practical empathy that leaders need to show. That is, empathy that results in truly identifying, understanding and fulfilling their employees’ needs.
So what exactly is practical empathy?
Practical empathy goes beyond just understanding and sharing others’ feelings. It translates into actual practice of care and meaningful action. It is empathy in action.
Practical empathy increases employees’ sense of belonging and connection, improving business outcomes in the process and successfully attracting and retaining talent. Employees see themselves remaining 2.5 years longer at their organisation when their leaders are empathetic.
The research reveals six active components to practical empathy at the workplace, not just at the leadership level but at the broader organisational level:
1. Prioritise the individual’s needs, challenges, and potential. In other words, the focus should be on the individual.
2. Invite feedback and seek understanding. Ask for input and feedback on policies, initiatives and daily employee experiences, whether negative or positive.
3. Practice active listening with the intention of learning. Mere demonstration of conern will not suffice.
4. Accept other’s viewpoints and be open to others’ views.
5. Take action on behalf of the person. Go beyond simple caring and offer supportive action.
6. Ensure resources for support and respect boundaries. Leaders themselves need not serve as comprehensive support systems.
Leaders of today who not just mentor and advocate but also connect and inspire their employees feel the need to embrace empathy in order to ensure a positive culture. When employees see their leaders as empathetic, the odds of also being perceived as a modern leader increase three times. This leads to an 8.5 times higher likelihood of employees being highly engaged.