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Empathy Crisis in Healthcare? Here are 3 Ways to Improve

Empathy Crisis in Healthcare? Here are 3 Ways to Improve
Posted on Thursday, May 10, 2018 by Rae Shanahan
Nurses-WeekIt’s National Nurses Week, and I can’t help thinking about stand-out nurses who have made a difference in my life, or the life of a family member or friend. 


Nurses often demonstrate deep empathy for their patients, and by extension, we might expect that healthcare would be one of the most empathetic industries. In our 2018 State of Workplace Empathy study, we found that 97% of respondents believe it’s important for the healthcare industry to demonstrate empathy. However, a much smaller percentage—just 61%—think that healthcare organizations and companies as a whole are empathetic.

And it isn’t just outside perceptions; employees in healthcare responded in a similar way. Over three-quarters (77%) of healthcare workers said it is difficult for most people in their organization to demonstrate empathy. For an industry centered on helping people that is alarming, but it also signals an opportunity to improve the workplace environment for healthcare employees by increasing empathy in the workplace.

How can healthcare organizations increase their “EQ,” or Empathy Quotient? Here are three tips:

  1. Empathy training. A great way to start the conversation around workplace empathy is to institute a training program. HR departments use training sessions to cover many other expectations around workplace behavior, and empathy is no different. Consider starting with a self-diagnostic test, and potentially holding an empathy training workshop run by your HR department or an outside consultant. Over half of healthcare employees we surveyed (52%) said that empathetic work environments happen because of training, so leaders and HR professionals should take advantage of these types of programs to ensure their employees understand and can demonstrate empathetic behaviors.
  2. Include empathy on performance reviews. How do you express to employees what skills matter most? Address them in performance reviews so employees understand what behaviors and competencies are valued by their organization. In fact, 87% of healthcare employees agreed that empathy should be part of performance reviews. This can work hand-in-hand with training programs to measure how employees are demonstrating empathy, and to identify those who needs assistance with learning empathetic behaviors.
  3. Ensure diverse leadership. Women make up 80% of the healthcare workforce, and 83% of nurses are women. Yet, women are vastly underrepresented on executive boards and in leadership positions at healthcare companies. Increasing diversity in leadership was unequivocally tied to empathy in the 2018 State of Workplace Empathy study: 71% of employees responded that organizations would be more empathetic if they had more women in leadership positions. By including women and minorities in leadership positions, companies demonstrate a commitment to different experiences and perspectives, and that affects the entire workforce in a positive way. The healthcare industry can show it values workplace empathy by including more diverse voices in leadership positions.

Want to continue the conversation? Check out the findings from our 3rd annual State of Workplace Empathy study and join us on social media with #EmpathyatWork.