We could all stand to show a little more empathy in our day-to-day lives. Whether it’s holding a door open for someone with their arms full, being understanding with a missed deadline, or providing a listening ear to someone in need.
And, of course, to truly show empathy, empathy has to come from a place without hoping to receive anything in return. That said, practicing showing empathy as a leader in the workplace can have more than just the benefit of being a thoughtful person.
According to Forbes, research has shown that empathetic leaders see all sorts of benefits among their staff, such as improved mental health, improved employee retention, productivity, and more. Learning and mastering empathy should be part of training for all executive and administrative professionals.
Empathy has an invaluable place in the workspace. Read ASAP's blog post here to learn more about how compassion at your job can make a huge difference!
Let’s take a deeper look at how having empathy as a leader is essential.
So what IS empathy? Simply put, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Many people often use sympathy and empathy interchangeably. While practicing both is an excellent habit, a significant difference can change how you approach things.
Sympathy is understanding other people’s feelings and experiences from your perspective.
Empathy is putting yourself in the other person's shoes and working to understand why they might be feeling the way they are.
Sympathy is hearing that someone’s car got totaled and feeling bad for them. Empathy is hearing that someone’s car got totaled and recognizing that that car was their only means of transportation getting to and from work and that the extra financial strain might be causing them to feel more stressed.
How you give someone grace and support during these times of vulnerability defines empathy.
You might be thinking, “Oh, I can understand those circumstances are difficult; I am great at empathy!” And you might be!
But more than just having empathy, it’s important how you put it into practice.
Back to the car example: asking your team to be gracious and understanding of that employee as they adjust and find solutions to their transportation problems is great empathy in practice.
Not only will you be showing the person without a car that you’re being flexible, thoughtful, and kind to them, you’re projecting that to the rest of your staff—knowing that there is a leader who will look out for them when they need it builds loyalty and trust, not just towards you but within your team as a whole.
It may also invite your employees to open dialogues with you about how things are working IN the workplace. Knowing that they have a leader who is understanding and open to new solutions can spark innovation and cooperation, too!
In simplest terms, people like having a boss who sees them as people, not numbers. They want to know that their employer isn’t firing them if they’re late because their car broke down or they slept in late because their new baby isn’t sleeping through the night yet.
But there are some quantifiable benefits, too!
For example, according to Forbes, “57% of white women and 62% of women of color said that they were unlikely to think of leaving their companies when they felt their life circumstances were respected and valued by the company”. In short, knowing that their life circumstances were being taken into account can increase employee retention.
76% of people who experienced empathy from their work leaders reported being more engaged in their jobs than the 32% who experienced less compassion.
In addition, having an empathetic leader or company has been found to decrease stress, improve sleep behaviors, and promote better performance and customer experiences in their employees.
More than just being the right thing to do, considering the individual circumstances of your employees and team members makes you more in tune with their needs and can make them feel comfortable working with you long-term.