Empathy! For a successful company culture
“The more empathy becomes an integral part of culture, the stronger local, national, and global communities will be. But empathy has its enemies as well, in the form of racism, sexism, classism, and ethnocentrism, to name an important few.”(Christensen, 2003)
Of late, a lot of what is being broadcasted in the media is the sexism, prejudice and xenophobia experienced by people in various situations including the work environment. These prejudices termed as the ‘enemies’ of empathy, so inversely mean that empathy is the answer to counteract these and better people’s lives in all areas, especially the work space.
According to Carl Rogers, a humanistic psychologist, empathy is the ability to see another person’s world through their eyes. It is being able to understand things from the other person’s point of view, putting yourself in the other person’s ‘shoes’. It is an important value of society that helps avoid hatred and hostility. In it’s place, empathy promotes understanding, peace and altruism. Further, it has proven beneficial to companies’ success. This is because it is fundamental in maintaining a healthy work culture as it creates an environment that can readily foster and stimulate: stronger, more cooperative relationships, greater morale, less stress and the ability of employees to bounce back faster from tough times like downsizings.
Cognitive empathy, which is seeing someone else’s point of view, “helps teams engage with each other and allows them to collaborate and communicate effectively with each other,” states Rob Volpe, CEO of the consumer insights and strategy firm Ignite 360 (Engholm, 2019). So it prevents conflicts and misunderstandings, as well as poor morale, which subsequently enable employees to build significant and long- lasting relationships with each other.
Furthermore, this ability to see the world from the perspective of others has proven vital in bettering a company, for instance, according to the 2016 Empathy Index, the highest performing companies top the list of the Most Empathetic Companies (Ross, 2018). This is a report published by UK consulting firm, The Empathy Business, whose aim is to analyse the internal culture of 170 companies on major financial indexes, and its findings are that, “The top 10 companies – on the 2015 list – increased in value more than twice as much as the bottom 10 and generated 50 percent more earnings. Therefore, apart from improving the work culture, empathy increases the competitive advantage and market value of a company (Ross, 2018).
Moreover, empathy sets the tone that people matter (Gallo, 2019). What this does in turn is that it motivates employees to increase both their individual and group performance. Knowing that their voices are being heard and that attention is being given to their workplace requirements makes the employees feel valued by the company, a feeling that enables them to work calmly, alone and with others.
As a matter of fact, these are conditions in demand for skilled workers. Empathy lets employees know that in the case that they are not performing as well as they might hope to, the company will first try to understand the issues behind the drop in performance before making any judgment or decision. This is important because anxiety driven performance might encourage employees to do their best, however it quickly proves ineffective. It might derail their focus from the job and instead put it into intra-company competition.
Thus, empathy builds loyalty between employees and employers. It is not surprising then that empathy is in high demand among both employees and employers. According to the “State of Workplace Empathy” study by Businesssolver (2019), 90% of employees say they’re more likely to stay with an empathetic employer, and 87% of CEOs believe empathy is linked to financial performance (Gallo, 2019).
In a company, empathy can be practiced in numerous ways like showing respect for your colleagues and leaders, actively listening to others, and motivating workers based on their individual needs.
This goes both ways; employees have to respect their superiors and vice versa. Feeling respected makes a person more likely to be active in the workplace and take personal responsibility (Ross, 2018).
This is important, more so for leaders, as it builds a better ground for understanding employees and having a supportive company culture. It refers to when a listener focuses fully on the speaker, and shows verbal as well as non-verbal signs that they understand and remember what has been said. So when your colleague is offering ideas or suggestions, actively listening to such increases individual engagement, team collaboration and a more positive and supportive work environment. For leaders, it shifts the mindset from a more personal and self- improvement one, to thinking of what is best for the company as a whole too, and further helping their team with their development career wise (Lucken, 2017).
Motivating employees based on their individual needs
First, as a leader, you have to let the team members know that their work is valuable through both word and action. Additionally, not everyone views financial rewards as desirable, so asking employees what they would actually like would be more effective when trying to reward or motivate them (Ross, 2018). You would be seeing things from their point of view and consequently, working together with them to find out what can work best for both sides rather than making assumptions. Employees then feel like their opinions matter, cultivating loyalty and a more empathetic environment.
Christensen, K., & Levinson, D. (2003). Encyclopedia of community from the village to the virtual world (Vol. 1). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
Engholm, G. (2019, February 12). Why Empathy Matters for Your Corporate Culture. Retrieved from https://www.hrci.org/community/blogs-and-announcements/hr-leads-business-blog/hr-leads-business/2019/02/12/why-empathy-matters-for-your-corporate-culture
Gallo, S., & Sarah Gallo Sarah Gallo is the associate editor at Training Industry. (2019, May 20). Empathy in Leadership: Creating a Culture of Understanding. Retrieved from https://trainingindustry.com/articles/leadership/empathy-in-leadership-creating-a-culture-of-understanding/
Lucken, S. (2017, June 15). Why You Need This One Trait to Build a Successful Company Culture. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/amphtml/294967
Ross, M. (2018, November 22). 4 Reasons Why Empathy Is Good for Business. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/amphtml/322302
American Psychological Association 6th edition formatting by BibMe.org.