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Measuring Empathy at Work—What Government Employees are Saying

Measuring Empathy at Work—What Government Employees are Saying
Posted on Tuesday, October 23, 2018 by Rae Shanahan

Talking about the government these days can be tough—our political climate is increasingly polarized and with midterm elections right around the corner, many of us are seeing signs all around our communities and frequent ads on TV that speak to different constituencies.


Government may not be the same as other industries, but like people in the private sector, government employees have co-workers, managers, and customers—all of us! And with over 2 million employees (excluding military personnel), the federal government is one of the largest employers in the U.S.

We include government as one of the sectors we survey in the State of Workplace Empathy study, since not only is government a large employer, it also has employees all over the country. In fact, 80 percent of the federal workforce is outside Washington, DC. And just as the data showed in the other industries we surveyed, workplace empathy is increasingly important to government employees at all levels, federal, state, and local. Here are three ways empathy impacts government as an industry:

Government improves on empathy. In 2018, 57 percent of government-employed respondents said their industry was more or much more empathetic than other industries. This is a 23-point increase from 2017. These results illustrate that government employees view their workplace as empathetic. That is, they feel their organization demonstrates it can understand and experience the feelings of another person. People may have stark opinions about politics, but the employees who work in government day-to-day and all over the country increasingly see their jobs as empathetic, not divisive.

Government employees are bullish on technology. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 79 percent of employees in the technology industry and 80 percent in healthcare—another tech-savvy sector—say that artificial intelligence tools and other advanced technologies can be a partner in building workplace empathy. Government employees responded in the same way—77 percent say that tech can help build a more empathetic organization. We may not think of government offices as the most tech-friendly, but there is definitely a changing perception among those who work there. This presents an opportunity for government departments to implement solutions such as a personal benefits assistant to meet their employees’ needs and increase the “Empathy Quotient” in their workplaces.

Empathy is taught, not just innate. A majority of government employees (60 percent) say that empathetic work environments happen because of training, not just from recruiting the right people. This is a marked increase from 2017, when only 38 percent of government employees responded in the same way. And it was the highest proportion of employees in any given industry who said training resulted in an empathetic environment. Whether it’s one-on-one sessions or workshops for a group of employees, there are many options to incorporate empathy training for government departments and offices. Leadership can capitalize on this interest and help foster empathy for the employees who are serving not just customers, but all citizens.

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