Gone are the days where effective leaders rule with an iron fist. These days, as we move away from autocratic leadership work models, there is a bigger focus on the importance of empathy as a key ingredient to good leadership. But is empathy just a nice-to-have quality in leadership, or is it a necessity in today’s stressed-out work environment?
Recent research by Catalyst suggests it is essential. In a survey of some 1,000 employees across a range of industries, it was found that in the midst and aftermath of the pandemic, “empathy is an important driver of employee outcomes such as innovation, engagement, and inclusion—especially in times of crisis”.
Why is empathy so important?
Now more than ever, there is an urgent need for organisations to strategically cultivate empathy within their culture and specifically in their leadership.
Why? Because we are facing a global increase in stress from the pandemic. The effects are undeniable. People have experienced burn-out and stress on many different levels. Lives have been turned upside down, we have faced ‘the great resignation’, now there’s a recession on the horizon. People are fed up, not just in their work lives but life in general.
A global study by Qualtrics found that 42% of people surveyed have experienced a decline in mental health. Alarmingly, nearly 70% of people say they have experienced increased stress since the beginning of the pandemic, with 57% reporting increased anxiety and more than half of those surveyed admitting they are emotionally exhausted.
Due to the immense workplace pressures of the pandemic, there has been an increase in workplace incivility, which escalates the stress levels in people. When leaders are stressed out, there is a trickle-down effect. Workers also become stressed out. Performance is impacted and people are less likely to show empathy to others, resulting in a lack of motivation and teamwork and impacted customer service.
The solution? A large dose of empathy, from the top down.
The positive effects of empathy in the workplace
Cultivating empathic leadership is a successful strategy to respond to crisis and is a sought-after attribute highly regarded by employees.
Research shows people are craving more empathy from their work. As we experience all the stress and emotional exhaustion of the pandemic, empathy within the workplace can contribute to positive workplace experiences and have significant outcomes, some of which include;
- Employees are inclined to be more creative and innovative
It stands to reason that when an employee has an empathetic leader, they are more motivated and more likely to display innovative and creative thinking in their work. Likewise, they are more inclined to admit mistakes and learn from mistakes than if they have a leader without empathy who would otherwise blame them and hold them responsible for any mistakes. More empathy in leadership leads to a more accountable workforce willing to learn and grow from experiences.
- Employees are more engaged
Empathy builds trust in relationships. Human relationships are vitally important for employees, especially with their managers. Having an empathetic leader who validates their stresses and concerns and helps make life better for them, is the foundation of strong relationships, ultimately resulting in more valued and engaged staff.
- Employee retention increases
People don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses and poor management who don’t value them. Staff are naturally going to be less inclined to leave their job if they feel valued and respected at work. This includes leaders understanding and taking an interest in their mental health and general life circumstances. Once again, empathetic leadership is the vital ingredient for employees being content and staying put in their jobs.
How to lead with more empathy
Here are just a few approaches to consider if you want to be a more empathetic leader.
- Check in with your team, ask questions about their well-being and general contentment without pushing individual boundaries.
- Ensure you do what you say you are going to do. If someone opens up to you and you make a verbal commitment to improve something, make sure you do it. If you say you are going to be more available for one-on-one catch-ups for example, make sure you schedule them in and don’t cancel them for other more important meetings. Make your staff feel valued and respected by sticking to your word. If staff want to continue working from home at least some of the time, but management want them back in the office, consider creating a hybrid work model, where they can have the best of both worlds.
- Practice cognitive empathy; ‘if it was me, how would I feel?’, ‘If I was in that situation, I would feel ……?’. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is the definition of empathy, ask these kinds of questions to better empathise with people in their unique circumstances.
- Inquire about staff by expressing your concerns and asking them directly how they are and then actively listen to their response and showing you understand and are committed to improving their happiness at work.
- Be aware of your organisation’s mental health and wellbeing policies and resources so you can offer them if needed.
The power of empathy in a crisis and beyond is undeniable and the effects of cultivating empathy as a strategic response to crisis is vitally important to the longevity and success of businesses today.
Does your company have enough empathy running through each and every level of operation? Could it benefit from more? Could your leadership team benefit from one of my tailored workshops?
Please get in touch today. I’d love to help!