As a business leader, you want to keep employees engaged at work and encourage company loyalty. How does the empathetic workplace blend in with those goals? How can you create a culture that makes people care about their jobs? The key is making empathy your central focus by starting with a top-down approach.
When leadership makes employees feel respected and valued, they provide a space where employees can bring their whole selves to work. In turn, their teams are happier and more motivated. Employers who want to facilitate a compassionate company culture need to improve communication, boost transparency, listen to employees, and include more stakeholders in the decision-making process.
The Importance of Empathy
Traditional work methods got flipped upside down at the start of the pandemic, creating additional stress in people’s work and personal lives. Research conducted by Qualtrics found that 42% of employees experienced a decline in mental health after the start of COVID-19. This stress caused a decrease in work performance, with 20% of people saying it took longer to finish tasks and 12% saying they struggled to juggle workplace responsibilities.
Creating an empathetic workplace can help ease some of the stress employees are feeling. Recent research from Catalyst shows how empathy can improve workplace performance. The survey found that 76% of people with highly empathetic leaders reported feeling more engaged at work, while less than a third of those surveyed with less empathetic leadership reported engagement. So what does this mean for you? If you want your employees to do their best work, creating an empathetic workplace isn’t an option. It’s a necessity.
How to Create an Empathetic Workplace
Empathy has the power to transform your workplace. However, it takes more than one initiative to make empathy the cornerstone of your company culture. Here are four things you can do to continuously foster compassion and create a company culture grounded in empathy:
1. Implement an Open-Door Policy
Opening communication lines across the company is a great way to show employees that they’re in an environment that values empathy. When appropriately implemented, an open-door policy can improve communication across all levels of an organization and establish trust among employees. Rather than keeping workplace issues to themselves, employees with this policy will feel more comfortable discussing problems with managers. This allows managers to address concerns before they become major stressors.
For an open-door policy to be successful, you need to encourage upward communication. If this is a new concept for your workforce, you may need to prompt workers to provide senior leadership feedback. One way to get the ball rolling is by asking employees for feedback in annual surveys and addressing the survey results in a companywide meeting.
2. Be Vulnerable
To effectively lead a team through a crisis, transparent communication is key. Yet very few leaders keep employees in the loop. In a recent survey conducted by Leadership IQ, only 20% of employees said their leaders always openly share ongoing company challenges. When employees are left in the dark, anxiety and fear can develop, causing them to consider looking for new career opportunities. On the other hand, when leaders openly share company challenges, employees are 10 times more likely to recommend them as great employers.
So how can senior managers and CEOs practice vulnerable leadership? You could try discussing challenges you or the company are facing and victories you’re incredibly proud of. By opening up to your team, you make it easier for them to open up to you.
3. Listen More Than You Speak
To be empathetic, you need to become a better listener. This means keeping an open mind, recognizing how your employees are feeling, and trying to understand their perspectives. While you don’t have to agree with everything said, ensuring your team feels heard can make a world of difference. In fact, employees who feel heard are 4.6 times more empowered to do their best work.
Try to listen more than you talk. Your goal should be to avoid interrupting employees while they speak. Paraphrase what was said after they’re done to show that you are listening. Although you may disagree with what was said, it’s still important to validate the other person’s perspective and let them know you understand where they’re coming from.
4. Talk With Your Team Before Making Decisions
As the world returns to normal, you may be wondering what your work environment should look like. Some employees may be eager to return to the office, while others enjoy working from home. Before creating a return-to-office plan, talk with your team about their preferences.
Employees will have their own unique qualities that dictate which type of working environment suits them best. As an empathetic leader, it’s important to keep each individual’s unique characteristics in mind while creating a plan that works for them. The world of work has been permanently altered, and there’s no longer a one-size-fits-all strategy that works for everyone.
If you want employees to care about their jobs, you need to care about them. By creating an emphatic work environment, you can create a space where employees feel safe bringing their whole selves to work.