How to Increase Empathy in the Workplace

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Empathy: it’s something we’re taught as children but along the way, it tends to get left behind when looking to advance in the workplace. How do we bring that back? Several successful CEOs, Founders, Co-Founders, and Department Heads have shared their top tips and tricks that help increase workplace empathy.

1. Lead By Example

Leaders are so integral in how their employees interact. Make sure you are exhibiting the behaviors you want to see in your employees. There’s a concept called Servant Leadership that highlights the fact that leadership doesn’t mean having control and authority exclusively. In fact, being able to show your willingness to serve your employees is likely to increase their understanding of your character and empathy as well.

“Leadership is something that takes a while to get the hang of,” says Dylan Fox, Founder and CEO of Assembly AI. “There’s a very fine line between being someone who is respected and approachable and being someone who is feared or avoided because of how you handle your authority. Keeping this in mind every day can go a long way.”

2. Show Empathy To Your Employees

Empathy can come in many shapes and sizes in the workplace. It can mean asking about their family or life events or even smiling at your staff more frequently. (It also can mean looking at some of the other tips and tricks on this list and considering adding them to your habits.)

“Every situation where your decision is required is an opportunity to show how you want others to treat each other,” says Schuyler Hoversten, Co-Founder and President of Swoopt. “Treating your workers with sympathy implies understanding the things they may be going through and identifying that, even if it’s not a circumstance that would cause you stress, the stress they feel is very real to them and showing an understanding of that during their time of struggle – whether it’s something in their personal, work, or family life – can go a long way in exhibiting to them and other employees what empathy looks like in a workplace.”

3. Be Personable

This means you need to get to know your employees and they need to know each other. Holding a team meeting where you all get together and interact once per week and discuss things that aren’t work related – even if it’s only for half an hour – can really boost office morale and empathy towards each other.

When employees can share what’s going on in their lives with each other without feeling like they’re being unproductive or wasting time, it can form a much healthier work environment and the workplace culture can grow in empathy.

“One of the best tips I have is to learn how your employees receive appreciation best,” says Adam Mitchell, CEO of SponsorPulse. “Send out an email with a few questions that will help you understand how they prefer to receive praise. Some people don’t like to be praised in front of others; others might need something more tangible than a word of appreciation – like a handwritten note- to feel seen. It all depends on the individual.”

4. Watch Out for Burnout

The dreaded “burnout”. Executives feel it, employees feel it, and it never turns out well for anyone. Being aware of when your employees are getting dangerously close to running on “E” can help you in showing empathy (even if you are feeling the effects of burnout too). Maybe it’s been a heavy project month or there are a ton of deadlines coming up. Look around for something you could do to make everyone’s days a little less stressful and increase empathy in the workplace.

“Sometimes just giving employees a bit more time can be beneficial,” says Jeremy Goldstein, CEO of Navitar. “That might mean you extend the project deadline a few days or you could give your staff a bit more time to themselves on an extended lunch break or end a workday early if you can afford to. It’s also helpful to give them something to look forward to at the tail end of a stressful time so they know there is a break in sight.”

5. Give Personal Care

How many of your employees have been to your home with their families for dinner? Something as simple as providing a meal and spending one-on-one time with them outside the walls of the office can let you see an entirely different side of someone and understand their lives better. Think of the classic movie A Christmas Carol where Ebenezer Scrooge looks in the window at Bob Cratchit and his family and sees them in a new light now that he’s removed from the cold workplace environment – what an impact that makes!

“You can learn ten times more about an employee or coworker in half the time when you’re in a more casual setting,” says Chris Vaughn, CEO of Emjay. “You have to remember that what you see in the workplace is just a portion of who they are. They have hobbies, they have interests, and they have families. Get to know about those things and you’ll have so much more of an appreciation for who they are and what they do.”

6. It Is Personal – Not Just Business

So many organizations have succumbed to the idea that if it’s for business, it’s not personal. But that’s not true! Unless your business is being run by robots exclusively, there is someone on the other side who feels the effects of an interaction or decision very personally.

“I always try to remember to put myself into my employee’s shoes before a meeting – especially if discipline or bad news is involved,” says Omid Semino, CEO and Founder of Diamond Mansion. “These types of meetings are an unavoidable evil of the business world, but how you handle the delivery of the words to that individual can shape what they think of you and how they behave moving forward. Creating a positive rapport where you are known to be empathetic among staff can aid the spread of empathy through your workplace.”

7. Listen

This seems like such a simple idea but so many of us forget that this is an integral part of a workplace with good empathy. If you don’t listen, you can’t be empathetic to others. Listening is how you learn what is important to the people around you and how you can help them in whatever they might be dealing with.

“Sometimes just lending an ear to someone who needs to process a situation might make their entire day better,” says Daniel Osman, Head of Sales for Balance Homes. “We get so wrapped up with our own goals as well as issues and we fail to remember that we have a whole community around us who probably care about us a great deal. You spend a large portion of your day with your work colleagues so it’s only natural that they will share things with you. Even if it is a situation, you don’t fully understand, being a listening ear can show a great deal of empathy. Plus, as an employer, you learn a lot about what is important to your staff by hearing them out and listening to what they’re struggling with in the workplace and at home.”

8. Be Willing to Be Wrong

Learning how to build an empathetic workplace is not something that can be done in an instant or even without trials. Workplace empathy is something that many people will need to learn and adapt to and sometimes being empathetic means recognizing your own faults in bringing about an unempathetic workplace.

“Learning to initiate empathetic responses among employees meant that I had to essentially undo some of the things I thought were right because they made sense on paper,” says Matt Woods, Co-founder & CEO of SOLD.com. “Numbers don’t always mean success – and that’s something that experience has taught me. I had to learn to disregard some other advice I’ve heard over my life and realize that sprinting to the finish line without regard for the effects of your decisions is not a good way to ensure the longevity of your business or the happiness of your staff.”

9. Show Empathy through Financial Support

Whether this is through raises, bonuses, or by providing a luncheon or office party where you are providing a meal for everyone, a bit of financial support in one way or another can go a long way. Earlier in the article it was discussed that not everyone receives appreciation in the same way, so this is a good way to hit multiple targets at once.

“Buying lunch for the office is something that shows empathy in a myriad of ways,” says
Ann McFerran, CEO of Glamnetic. “It gives them a physical gift of appreciation and you have the opportunity to verbally thank them as a group. It doesn’t hurt to distribute individual notes of praise during this time too. Making sure everyone on your team feels supported and cared for is at the heart of creating an empathetic workplace.”

10. Be Consistent

If you’re not consistent with your efforts to create a more empathetic workplace, you run the risk of making it even more unempathetic. Consistency is key here, and it’s something that can be difficult at times but well worth it in the long run.

“Consistently showing empathetic behaviors lets your employees know they can trust you,” says Will Watters, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Western Rise. “If they don’t trust you, you can’t set any sort of example for them to follow. You need to make sure they see you carrying through with your promises and efforts to create a better workspace for everyone or they will stop trying too.”

Conclusion

Empathy in the workplace can be such a wonderful thing to have and it can make a big difference in workplace culture and employee motivation. These tips and tricks from industry leaders should help you start to get on your way to creating a more empathetic workplace where people look forward to coming to work every day!

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