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Embracing Diversity: What Leaders Can Do to Combat Loneliness and Increase Empathy

Embracing Diversity: What Leaders Can Do to Combat Loneliness and Increase Empathy
Posted on Tuesday, April 16, 2019 by Rae Shanahan

If organizations don’t embrace diversity in the workplace, they miss an opportunity to improve employee engagement and well-being.


In today’s labor market, there are more jobs than workers to fill them, and one would think that employees are finding jobs they want and feeling positive about their day to day. Yet we’re seeing that employees continually lack engagement at work, and despite our constantly connected culture, more people are experiencing loneliness, which can lead to depression and other mental health issues. The costs of mental health issues are not to be taken lightly — presenteeism, or being at work but not fully productive and engaged, is estimated to cost $78 billion a year and result in 32 workdays lost per employee.

In our 2019 State of Workplace Empathy Study, nearly a quarter of respondents (24%) said there wasn’t a true sense of belonging at their workplace, and approximately the same number (22%) reported they cannot bring their authentic selves to work. Feeling like you don’t belong at the place you spend so much of your waking hours is difficult and troubling, and this can lead to disengagement and loneliness. So, how can we as leaders address these issues of disconnection and a lack of engagement? The answer is empathy— and when organizations embrace the diversity of today’s workforce, it creates an empathetic work environment and improves business outcomes.

Our latest results demonstrate that diversity and inclusion are more important than ever for creating an empathetic workplace. For example, 75% of employees say that more diversity in leadership makes organizations empathetic, and 87% say diversity & inclusion (D&I) programs demonstrate empathy. Large majorities of HR professionals and CEOs agree, showing that regardless of job role, people believe that a workplace that welcomes them for who they are supports an empathetic culture.

Now in its fourth year, our State of Workplace Empathy Study has shown over time the value of diversity in fostering workplace empathy. Here are three key findings from the 2019 results:

  • An empathetic, diverse culture helps address issues with loneliness. Embracing diversity means welcoming and valuing employees for who they are, encompassing gender, race, generation, and more. By fostering an environment that is inclusive and welcoming to all employees, organizations can help employees feel that they belong, which improves employee engagement and well-being. We’ve seen how 9 in 10 employees are more likely to stay with an empathetic employer, so encouraging an environment where the feelings and experiences of others are valued, i.e., an empathetic environment, will help employees feel less alone, more engaged, and more likely to stay with your organization.
  • Diversity can inspire robust benefits programs. With a record four generations in the workforce today, and a fifth engaged with benefits and pensions, embracing diversity means providing all employees with the support they need. In fact, family-related benefits such as day care and after-school care were rated as empathetic by 95% of employees. Flexible schedules were also noted as empathetic by the same percentage, with 90% of all generations naming flexible working hours as empathetic. This shows that not only do parents need help with work-life balance, but so too do “sandwich generation” employees who are raising children and caring for elderly relatives. Flex schedules also speak to older employees who may be exploring part-time options yet not ready for full retirement. Being in tune with what a diverse employee population needs will help employers to offer the right benefits at the right place, and at the right time.
  • Diversity in leadership reinforces that all employees are valued. As our workforce has become increasingly diverse, it’s crucial for leadership to also be representative and inclusive. Year after year, study respondents say that diversity in leadership makes an organization more empathetic, and 2019 is no exception: not only do three-quarters of employees say diverse leadership increases empathy, but 92% of HR professionals and 87% of CEOs agree. This is also extremely important for younger workers — 81% of Millennials say increased diversity in leadership makes companies more empathetic. It’s clear that employees want to know that everyone can succeed in their organization, and that all people are welcome not just as workers, but as leaders.

April is Celebrate Diversity Month, so this is a perfect time to reflect on the value of diversity for fostering workplace empathy. We should also remember, this month and every month, how diversity and empathy go hand-in-hand for keeping employees engaged and productive, and feeling that they belong.

Read the 2019 State of Workplace Empathy Executive Summary below.