6 ways to become a more empathetic organization


The big resignation has caused many workers to become more and more demanding about what they are looking for in an employer. As a result, companies have scrambled to identify ways to recruit and retain talent.

Employers can stand out by becoming more empathetic.

Around 97% of workers believe empathy is an essential quality of a healthy work culture, and 92% said they specifically seek out organizations that show empathy when looking for a job, a survey finds. carried out in 2021 by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

On June 13, Jeremy York, SHRM-SCP, vice president of talent strategy success for HR consulting firm Purple Ink LLC in New Orleans, addressed this topic while leading a concurrent session, ” Empathy: The New Work Culture Norm”, at the SHRM Annual Conference and Exhibition 2022 in New Orleans.

“Empathy is an investment in our people,” York said. “It creates a culture where people actually want to come to work. And they feel comfortable getting to work.”

Empathy is essential to leadership, he explained. It helps to establish and maintain positive relationships in the workplace; promote diversity, equity and inclusion; encourage cooperation and collaboration; and facilitate conflict management.

Workers are tired of being treated like numbers rather than human beings, York said. In many cases, the dynamic between employer and employee is a one-way relationship: leaders may require subordinates to take on additional projects or work overtime, but when workers want time off to personal commitments, they have to ask for it – and it can become a question if rejected.

“I call the Great Resignation ‘the Great Awakening,'” York said. “People are starting to realize that if you don’t show empathy, employees will leave.”

How to develop empathy

What role does empathy play at work? And why is it important?

Empathy is about understanding your workers, York said. It’s a key component of emotional intelligence and effective leadership, and it can improve human interactions, leading to more effective communication and positive outcomes.

York proposed six ways organizations can become more empathetic:

  • Listen to your workers. Actively listen to hear the meaning of what others are saying, pay attention to non-verbal cues, reflect on feelings expressed, and summarize what you hear.
  • Encourage true perspective taking. Managers should always put themselves in the shoes of their direct reports. This can be applied to problem solving, conflict management, or driving innovation.
  • cultivate compassion. Verbal encouragement and motivation exemplify compassion. Communicate openly, speak clearly to others, and be aware of others’ emotions and thoughts – your words can make or break their day.
  • Organize empathy training. Empathy skills can be taught, and one of the most effective ways to expand adoption is to conduct empathy training for your employees. You can find a provider in your area and schedule a session.
  • Adjust your hiring process. Do you seek empathy from job applicants? Be intentional in screening for empathy by crafting interview questions that encourage candidates to show how they practice empathy.
  • Reward empathy. Recognize employees who show empathy. You can do this by making a public announcement referencing how an employee demonstrated strong empathy skills.

Body language is an integral pillar of empathy. For example, if a worker is explaining a job task or talking about some aspect of their life at home, managers should put away their phones, computers, and other distractions. Attention shows sincerity, York said.

It’s also important for business leaders to talk about empathy with their managers and employees. Let your employees know that empathy is important and teach them that giving time and attention to others improves job performance and improves efficiency.

“It’s not rocket science,” he said. “We are the ones who treat people like people.”

Barriers to empathy

Fawn Seifrit, human resources manager for the Berkshire Country Club who traveled from Reading, Pennsylvania, to attend the conference, said that recognizing the challenges of empathy and “shifting the focus from ourselves and to employees” was a big takeaway from the York session.

“As HR professionals, we are so worried about our success and what we need to be successful,” Seifrit said. “But in the process, we don’t fully show empathy for the other person.”

Showing empathy isn’t always easy. York described several barriers to achieving empathy, including the following:

  • feel pressure. When our brain is under pressure, we find it difficult to distinguish between our own emotional state and the emotional state of others.
  • Let emotions rule. When we become restless, others are more likely to react to our restlessness with similar emotions.
  • Make quick decisions. Making decisions under pressure makes us less likely to accurately assess a situation and we begin to project our own emotions onto others.
  • react defensively. It’s easy to start taking things personally when we need to empathize with someone who is hurting.
  • Experiencing the “Stranger Effect”“It’s harder to empathize with people we don’t already know.

York explained that the stranger effect is of particular importance because people are conditioned to interact with people with whom they share similar interests.

“But if we learn to be around and comfortable with people from different backgrounds, it can help us be more comfortable with different people, build relationships and build trust,” said York, noting that embracing people from different cultures can also improve recruitment and retention. efforts.

He emphasized that empathy is not an excuse for poor job performance. Companies can show empathy while holding employees accountable for their work. For example, managers can suggest remote work options if a worker is having trouble getting childcare, while holding the worker accountable for completing projects and attending meetings virtually.

“Many leaders today don’t show empathy, but it’s important in the current climate,” he said. “We don’t focus enough on empathy or people. That needs to change.”

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