Businessolver Blog

Embracing Empathy at Work

Embracing Empathy at Work
Posted on Wednesday, October 25, 2017 by Rae Shanahan

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The blitz of coverage earlier this year about ride-share giant Uber provides a cautionary tale of the effect “bro culture” can have on the workplace. 

Uber wasn’t the only company making headlines, however. This past year delivered far too many alarming stories about companies with a culture of exclusivity and lack of diversity. The reality is, however, that these headline-making companies aren’t alone –  workplaces across the U.S. are in a state of turmoil.

I think most organizations could benefit from taking a beat to evaluate their culture and create a more inclusive workplace.

Businessolver research shows that empathy should be at the heart of that examination. Our second annual Workplace Empathy Monitor finds that empathy is a powerful – yet underappreciated and underutilized – tool that can drive higher employee engagement and a positive workplace culture. In fact, more than 90 percent of U.S. employees think empathy in the workplace is important, yet less than half rate organizations as empathetic.  

So, how can companies demonstrate greater empathy and transform workplace culture from “bro” to “pro”? Here are three tactics we learned from the panel of experts that joined our latest webinar, “Out with the Bro, In with the Pro: Embracing empathy at work.”

Walk the talk

A staggering 95 percent of U.S. employees believe offering flexible work hours and location is the best way for organizations to demonstrate empathy, but only 38 percent report having these types of benefits.

Sure. Policies, such as the ability to work remotely, can help foster empathy in the workplace. But offering them simply isn’t enough. To be effective, organizations must be genuine in their offerings and encourage employees to actually use them.

Professor Adam Waytz of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management notes that 61 percent of U.S. employees take only half their allotted vacation days. And employees at organizations with less traditional policies, like unlimited time off, typically end up taking even less – often because employees don’t feel empowered to do so. If employees don’t see their boss taking vacation or working from home, it can foster a mindset that they shouldn’t either.

Thus, executives and managers must lead by example, or even better, implement policy that fully encourages employee well-being and balance. Adam mentioned tech company FullContact as an example. Each employee receives a stipend to spend on a vacation with the only stipulation being that they cannot work or check emails while on the vacation.

Never stop recruiting

In the war for talent, many organizations tout the benefits they offer in order to attract the best and brightest. Workplace perks may be top of mind for new hires when they first join an organization, but they tend to be quickly forgotten once employees are fully onboarded and busy with the day-to-day responsibilities of their jobs.

For HR professionals, it’s critical to not only think about how you can recruit new employees, but also how you can continue to “re-recruit” your current employees to ensure they’re engaged and happy. Veronica MCoy, Senior Benefits Manager at Sephora, shared with the webinar audience that regular communication with employees about the different resources available to them is critical. Even better – make it easy to learn about resources by providing a one-stop-shop where all information about employee benefits and other incentives can be accessed.   

Keep learning and training

Sixty-five percent of employees believe that empathy can be learned. While that is a promising statistic, the reality is that empathy can be complex and abstract, making it a tremendous task to effectively train employees on how to demonstrate it. 

A more realistic first step is to train employees in skills that relate to empathy. For example, the Workplace Empathy Monitor found that treating everyone with respect, showing people care, and making time to talk one-on-one are all top behaviors that demonstrate empathy.

Zero in on organizational functions that most need a more empathetic approach, and prioritize training accordingly. Giving and receiving feedback in performance reviews, listening to ideas in meetings and brainstorms, and recognizing the emotions of a subordinate or manager are all aspects that if infused with more empathy, could have a significant impact on improving the state of workplace culture.

 To learn more about empathy and workplace culture, visit: