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Is there an Empathy Deficit? 3 Ways to Improve Empathy and Emotional Intelligence

Is there an Empathy Deficit? 3 Ways to Improve Empathy and Emotional Intelligence
Posted on Thursday, June 6, 2019 by Marcy Klipfel

Despite the strong economy and the lowest jobless rates since 1969, employees are struggling with a myriad of issues that are hindering their health, happiness and job performance.


They are suffering both mentally and financially. For example, 42 million people are dealing with some form of anxiety, and over 16 million adults are affected by depression. This is costing employers $210.5 billion per year in absenteeism and low productivity and amounting to 32 lost workdays per employee. And, according to the Federal Reserve, 40% of adults say they would not have enough money to cover a $400 unexpected expense.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. With the current tumultuous political climate, it seems like many Americans are disappearing deeper into their own bubbles – surrounding themselves with more and more people who think the same, look the same, and vote the same. These bubbles are not only causing a spike in loneliness, but also creating an empathy deficit in most social and workplace environments. According to our recent study, 90% of employees think that their organizations could do more for overall well-being.

So how do we burst the bubble? The key could be in how we focus on improving our emotional intelligence, or, in other words, our capacity to be aware of, control and express our emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. Multiple studies have shown that those with a higher EI go further in their careers and are more successful and satisfied with their jobs.

But you can’t improve EI without empathy. What is empathy? It’s the ability to understand how others feel, and it happens when two parts of the brain work together. The emotional center perceives the feelings of others and the cognitive center tries to understand those feelings.  

Research has shown that empathy makes people better managers, workers, family members and friends. Not only that, but practicing and improving empathy and EI actually creates strong human bonds that are critical to sustaining a humane and successful future. So where do you start? Here are 3 tips to improving empathy and EI in your workplace and life.

Reducing screen time. We live in a digital world with an “always on” culture that demands quick responses to emails, texts and calls at all hours of the day. Many of us do most of our work on computers, staring at screens for up to eight hours a day. Screens, digital technology and social media are all helpful innovations that make our lives easier, but they can also cause isolation, loneliness and a lack of human connection. First of all, be sure you practice empathy in your email response policies. Encourage leaders to try to never send emails after hours or on weekends if they can help it. Or try managing response expectations for your employees to help them “turn off” when they are off the clock. This can drastically improve employees’ mental well-being and help increase productivity and engagement during working hours.

Addictions to our screens also hinder real human connections. Try putting down your own phone and strike up a conversation with a coworker in the elevator. Have a lunch meeting and require everyone to leave their phones at their desk. Instead of a formal meeting in a conference room, go outside and have a “walk and talk.” When you are having a conversation, be sure to put away your phone and make eye contact.

Make small connections. According to a recent New York Times article, cultivating small acquaintances, like neighbors, PTA pals and coworkers can drastically improve your ability to empathize with others and help you feel more connected. Taking a few minutes to engage with people we see regularly can actually increase our satisfaction with life.

Check Your Biases. Having bias is natural and everyone has different biases that relate to how they were raised and their unique life experiences. Acknowledging bias is the first step to overcoming them and in turn, improving empathy in your workplaces. Most biases are unconscious, so the first step to overcoming them is to find out what they are. Here are some helpful quizzes to get you started.

Don’t assume anything about your employees when you’re trying to help them. If you’re asking them about their lives, don’t assume they have an opposite-sex partner, or assume they have children. The key to improving EI and empathy in the workplace is asking first and listening to your employees instead of assuming.

Empathy and EI are both integral parts of a successful workplace, with HR at the center. Listening, making connections and learning from your employees are all key to developing empathetic relationships. Increasing empathy at your workplace isn’t just nice to have, 93% of employees would stay with an empathetic employer.

Want more information about the importance of empathy? Check out our full insights report below.