Being empathic – putting yourself in your employees’ shoes – is good for business in more ways than one
For many years, conventional wisdom suggested that emotion had no place in the workplace. However, in reality – especially during these strange times – it’s become a natural part of our working lives. For many businesses, the pandemic has highlighted that their organisations are not just full of workers, but contain teams of people with thoughts, feelings and emotions.
It’s against this backdrop that the role of empathy is coming to the fore. Empathy is the ability to identify and understand another’s situation, feelings and motives. It’s about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and seeing something through their eyes.
And it’s a skill that’s essential for leadership. Empathic leaders are able to effectively build and maintain relationships, which is a critical part of leading a company anywhere in the world. Below are seven reasons why it pays to be a more empathic boss.
1. It’s the right approach for a remote workforce
In 2004, psychologist Dr Daniel Goleman, wrote in Harvard Business Review about the reasons why empathy was key to being a great leader. Nearly two decades later, the reasons have even more resonance in today’s world – specifically, the increasing use of teams (which he refers to as “cauldrons of bubbling emotions”), the rapid pace of globalisation and the growing need to retain talent.
“Leaders with empathy do more than sympathise with people around them,” explains Goleman. “They use their knowledge to improve their companies in subtle, but important ways… They thoughtfully consider employees’ feelings – along with other factors – in the process of making intelligent decisions.”
2. It makes you a better leader
Author and leadership expert Simon Sinek says that empathy is crucial to successful leadership, describing it as the most important instrument in a leader’s toolbox. Meanwhile, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says he thinks empathy is the cornerstone of a successful leadership style – and that his company has benefited both from a culture and market performance standpoint as a result.
3. It appeals to Millennial workers
Empathy is a crucially important trait to one of the fastest growing workplace demographics – Millennials. According to a World Economic Forum article, 71% of Millennials want their co-workers to be like a ‘second family’, while a Deloitte study shows that 75% believe that their employer should mentor and nurture their innate talents.
4. It helps you make better business decisions
“Don’t confuse empathy with making people happy or being nice,” says business psychiatrist Prudy Gourguechon in Forbes. “Essentially, empathy is a neutral data-gathering tool that enables you to understand the human environment within which you are operating in business and therefore make better predictions, craft better tactics, inspire loyalty and communicate clearly.”
5. It gives you better business results
There are plenty of studies linking empathy to business results, from increased sales to enhanced performance and accelerated productivity. Interestingly, when UK consulting firm The Empathy Business analysed the internal culture of 170 companies on major financial indexes, the highest performing companies also topped the list of the Most Empathic Companies. In fact, the top 10 companies increased in value more than twice as much as the bottom 10 and generated 50% more earnings.
6. The alternative will demotivate your team
What’s the cost of not adopting a more empathic leadership style? Studies by the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University and Gallup show that disengaged workers had 37% higher absenteeism and a 60% more working errors. Furthermore, companies with low employee engagement scores (something that can occur when organisational empathy is lacking) had employees who were 18% less productive.
7. It’s good for individuals
Here’s a selfish reason to practice empathy – it’s good for you. Studies have shown that it can increase life satisfaction and self-esteem. Further research shows that people with high levels of empathy have larger and more fulfilling social networks, are more social themselves, volunteer more frequently, donate more to charity and are more likely to help others in need.
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