Empathy is an Overlooked Leadership Characteristic Impacting Your Workplace

The following article on leading with empathy appeared in Human Capital Innovations on June 14, 2024 , written by A.J. O’Connor Associates President Shannon O’Connor Bock. Read the original article here.

It is clear that nowadays, employees seek authentic connections with their managers and colleagues. EY’s Empathy in Business report found that mutual empathy between leaders and employees creates a safe, agile culture, increasing efficiency, creativity, job satisfaction and innovation. Yet, 52% of employees perceive corporate empathetic attempts as inauthentic. So, how does this overlooked leadership characteristic impact your workplace, and what can leaders do to build a more authentic and empathetic environment

Why Lead With Empathy?

An incredible 89% of employees agree that empathy contributes to better management. Through this style, leaders will see many direct impacts on their company’s bottom line

  • Productivity 85% of leaders saw increased productivity when leading with empathy.

  • Turnover – Without empathy, 58% of employees reported leaving a job because they didn’t feel valued by their manager and 48% reported leaving because they didn’t feel they belonged. Through empathetic leadership, these numbers will see the opposite effect.

  • Revenue81% of businesses saw an increase in revenue after the transition in leadership style. This can be attributed to employee engagement. Catalyst found that 76% of people with highly empathic senior leaders reported high levels of work engagement. They also reported higher levels of creativity, innovation and idea-sharing.

  • Inclusivity50% of those working under empathetic leaders said their workplace felt inclusive, compared to 17% feeling included under a less empathetic leadership style.

Defining Workplace Sympathy vs Empathy

Before learning to build a more authentic and empathetic environment, knowing how empathy differs from sympathy is essential. These two often need clarification, making it important to note how each relates to the workplace.

  • Empathy: Those with empathy perceive and relate to the thoughts, emotions, or experiences of others. This allows them to genuinely understand a situation or the emotions behind the situation from the other person’s perspective and react compassionately.

  • Sympathy: Sympathy is often defined as feeling pity for another person. This reaction often occurs without truly understanding the other’s situation. If not expressed appropriately, generalized sympathy may come across as disingenuous.

Leaders should aim to lead with empathy when navigating tough topics and situations within the workplace. By leading with empathy, all levels of employees will establish stronger connections, enhancing relationships and performance.

How To Lead with Empathy

  • Adjust The Mindset – Leaders can demonstrate empathy in two distinct ways: cognitively and emotionally.

    • For leaders who lean away from the emotional approach, consider implementing cognitive empathy. Ask yourself, “If I were in their position, what would I be thinking right now?” Posing this question is an act of cognitive empathy.

    • For leaders who more naturally connect with the emotional side, consider tapping into emotional empathy. This thought process requires leaders to put themselves in their employees’ shoes. Using the altered perspective when making workplace decisions is acting with emotional empathy.

  • Check-In – Checking in on your employees comes in many styles. For example, stay interviews will give you valuable insight into employees’ work lives, as well as the internal cultural health of the company. Less formally, take a couple of extra minutes each week to sincerely check in on your employees as you start or end your day.

  • Active Listening – The most successful leaders do not only consider others’ emotions but listen. They express concern and inquire about their employees’ challenges. When engaging with employees, show sincere interest in active listening. Maintain eye contact and naturally repeat notable pieces of the conversation. This will not only help you remember the topic at hand but will open lines of communication.

  • Actionable Assistance – People don’t often remember what you say; they remember what you do. Actionable empathy is understanding an employee’s struggles and then offering to help. It can be as simple as considering a team member’s perspective and making a new recommendation that helps the individual and the entire team grow.

Empathy has proven to build positive relationships and company culture and grow your business’s bottom line. While empathy is not a new idea, in today’s world,  it has grown to a new level of importance. Research has made it especially clear how empathy in leadership translates to leadership competency. If leaders are expected to adapt quickly, this style is a simple and proven way to keep employees happy while steering leaders in a direction to easily adjust and mitigate tomorrow’s challenges.

Related Posts:

The Value Of Emotional Intelligence

Leading With Empathy

Post by Shannon O'Connor Bock

Shannon O’Connor Bock is President of A.J. O’Connor Associates. A third-generation owner of this long-established family business, Shannon has been playing an integral role in the firm’s organizational strategy and growth for nearly 14 years. Gaining experience through hands-on involvement in all aspects of the business, she has cultivated a skillset that allows her to navigate seamlessly from concept to execution in the areas of client engagement, service innovation, operational efficiency and brand marketing.