Are You in Tune or Out of Touch?
#evolve Magazine
April 01, 2021

Empathy. It’s never been more important in the workplace. While some employees are adapting to today’s new world of work, others are stressed. And, despite finally turning  the page on 2020, a certain “heaviness” and uncertainty continues to linger.

In many ways, our future rests on our ability to bridge the chasm that exists between work before and after the pandemic. It’s a task that requires in-tune business leadership, managers who are in touch with their employees and their business — comfortable flexing their “soft skills” — to create a more transparent, mindful workplace that advances both employees and the broader business.

The Value of a Gallon of Milk

There are tales about politicians being out of touch with average citizens, not knowing how much a gallon of milk costs, or worse, not even knowing how to pay for groceries. As a business leader, what’s your “gallon of milk” barometer? Sure, you know the analytics, the KPIs (key performance indicators) and profit/loss ratios, but that’s your world. What does the world look like to your employees?

In short, it’s stressful. Of the employees who self-report stress and anxiety, 40% report persistent stress or excessive anxiety in their daily lives, 30% use prescription drugs to cope and more than a quarter have suffered a panic attack. But here’s the kicker: 50% say their managers are the main source of their stress.

This is where empathy — being able to understand and experience the feelings of others — can help. For a minute, put yourself in their shoes, try to see and feel the problems that might be keeping them up at night. Work to understand the toll their job — or in some cases,  the fear of losing their job — might be taking on their personal lives, career and health.

It’s about compassionate leadership. Step out of your world for a moment and into your employees’ world. Understand where they’re coming from and what they’re dealing with. Take action and adjust your course based on those insights to help them succeed.

So, what’s your gallon-of-milk barometer? It’s simple. Work hard to understand the personal and professional obstacles encountered daily by your workforce so you can do your level best to remove those barriers to growth.

Happy Employees, Happy Bottom Line

The 2020 State of Workplace Empathy report documents in detail the positive and changing impacts of workplace empathy. For example, a remarkable 74% of employees say they’re willing to work longer hours for empathetic employers while 75% would pass on a higher salary to work for a company with a strong culture of empathy.

From the employee perspective, a compassionate workplace is a happier place where they can be more engaged and productive. In fact, a vast majority of CEOs (82%) believe a company’s financial performance is tied to empathy, according to that workplace empathy report.

Through empathy, you’ll not only understand the real and daily obstacles that employees face, you’ll also see the small victories that propel them forward. You’ll become proactive, instead of reactive. You’ll be forward-thinking versus late to the game. You’ll stop asking what’s wrong and start doing more of what’s right.

Ready to Act? Here’s My List

So, how can you integrate empathy into your business? Think about the things that directly impact employees starting with the biggest issue today — the pandemic — and create a list of areas that can be adjusted. Here’s a quick peek at what’s topping my list:

  • The pandemic is still here, much to our dismay. Sure, vaccinations are rolling out by the millions, but virus-related anxiety and stress remains high. It’s critical that managers remain sensitive to the day-to-day realities of the pandemic, including those who are dealing with the death of a loved one, those who fear spreading it to vulnerable household members and the unfortunate “long-haulers” who are struggling with long-term health complications tied to the virus.
    Ninety-five percent of respondents to the empathy survey think an employer that offers generous paid time off (PTO) or leave benefits can better retain employees, and 94% say it boosts workplace productivity. Knowing this, consider adjusting your PTO policy to help alleviate COVID-related stress. This might involve allowing more time off for vaccinations to account for long lines and possible side effects and extending sick leave or offering flexible work schedules for those needing more time to recuperate from the virus.

  • Transparency is key to strong leadership. The value of clear, direct and frequent communication on matters directly influencing your business and your workforce cannot be overstated. It’s underscored by the fact that 80% of employees believe their colleagues are empathetic, but only 63% see empathy in their CEO.
    Change this narrative by providing fluid, leadership-driven visibility into the issues shaping your business and engage employees at every level. Invite them to participate in the conversation and share their perceptions, experiences and insights via internal discussion boards, mentoring relationships and employee talk-back sessions.
    While this level of transparency and engagement can sometimes blur the lines between leadership and employees, it can also help coalesce your workforce — effectively increasing your manpower — by fostering enterprise-wide support of business-critical goals and objectives.

  • Tailor employee support and development to their needs. Just as Baby Boomers flooded the workforce 40 years ago, Millennials and Gen Z are now making their mark, each with different priorities and agendas. To better support and develop this new generation of workers, know what influences them, where they came from and what matters most to them. A hallmark Gallup study on Millennials — roughly defined as those born between 1981 and 1996 — provides a sweeping glimpse of shifting work- place perspectives that’s applicable beyond just Millennials, and also points to how business leaders can pivot their approach:
    “Millennials don’t just work for a paycheck — they want a purpose.
    Millennials are not pursuing job satisfaction — they are pursuing development.
    Millennials don’t want bosses — they want coaches.
    Millennials don’t want annual reviews — they want ongoing conversations.
    Millennials don’t want to fix their weaknesses — they want to develop their strengths.
    It’s not just my job — it’s my life.”

Make no mistake. Empathy is more than a leadership mantra, it’s a path to better business. As leaders, we must stay in touch with what keeps our employees up at night and use those insights to intelligently guide our workforce — and our business — into the next era of work. Whatever that might be.

Related WorldatWork Resources
Employees Don’t Understand Their Health Plan: That’s a Big Problem
It’s a Stretch (In a Good Way) to Say Exercise Can Deliver Benefits
Workspan Daily News Bytes for July 5, 2024
Related WorldatWork Courses
Strategic Communication in Total Rewards
Total Rewards Management