As many workplaces struggle to retain and hire employees during the “Great Resignation,” leaders don’t have time to feel sorry for themselves. But it may be time for more of them to feel empathy toward their workers.
Ernst & Young’s 2021 Empathy in Business Survey showed around 50% of employees quit a previous job because their boss wasn’t empathetic to their struggles at work or personal lives. On the other hand, nearly 90% of queried workers believe compassionate leadership creates loyalty, and 85% say it increases productivity.
Empathetic leadership is a must in today’s COVID-affected workplace, as employees struggle with burnout, working from home, and other issues, according to research by Catalyst, a nonprofit that works to advance women in leadership positions. But until more business owners, executives and managers put a priority on listening to their employees and showing them they care, workers will look for companies that are more tuned in to their concerns, says Kathleen Quinn Votaw, the author of DARE to CARE IN THE WORKPLACE: A Guide to the New Way We Work.
“Most people do not know how to truly understand someone else’s point of view without letting their thoughts, opinions, and emotions get in the way,” Quinn Votaw says. “Leaders often sit in their place of judgment rather than using empathy as the bridge to understanding and connection.”
Quinn Votaw says that while empathy has gained importance in the work culture, many managers aren’t prepared for that role.
“Leading with empathy means understanding and accepting that people are not always operating at their very best,” she says. “Issues from home affect work lives. Working within and around that reality is the best way to create a place where people want to come to work.”
Quinn Votaw offers these tips on how leaders can lead with empathy and enhance the employee experience:
Be authentic. “Like actors in a Shakespearian play, we play roles versus showing up authentically,” Quinn Votaw says. “We have been taught to hide our true selves and display a false sense of bravado. To lead with empathy, get beyond the facade we all walk around with. So go the extra step – with your willingness to dig deep in terms of caring and asking questions that convey your interest in them as people.”
Communicate with a personal touch. A leader who consistently communicates with a personal touch for various reasons – praise for the employee, concern, and support for them – builds morale and increases retention, Quinn Votaw says. “The more personal they are, the more appreciated they are by the employees.”
Make space for connection. Quinn Votaw says leaders need to respect how their employees need personal relationships with each other. Leaders should personally connect with employees once or twice a week outside of regular meetings. “Make time for more social and genuine connections in virtual meetings,” she says. “Have fun with virtual coffee chats, happy hours, trivia contests, or scavenger hunts.”
Provide remote workers with the tech support they need. “There’s a growing economic inequality crisis with remote workers not having money for or access to technology,” Quinn Votaw says. “No one wants to lose out on high-quality talent because they lack funds for high-speed internet or a computer. Create a program to provide office equipment for your employees so they can have a functional setup in their personal space.”
Respect the boundaries of work and home life. Working in a remote environment has thrown off a lot of employees. “It was easy to have barriers and work/life balance when we commuted,” Quinn Votaw says. “Leaders can help employees create a home space where they can turn work on and off, which boosts productivity, enhances connection and creates a healthier work/life balance.”
“Empathy is not about you, the leader,” she says. “It’s about taking time to listen, putting yourself in someone else’s place, and providing what they need in that moment.”