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The State of Workplace Empathy is Vital, but Stalled

The State of Workplace Empathy is Vital, but Stalled
Posted on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 by Jon Shanahan
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At the start of 2020, there was no indication or preparation for what was to come.

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A global pandemic. Economic uncertainty. A growing social justice movement seeking accountability for long-standing systemic inequality. An upcoming election. These are all powerful changes taking place this year. 

Our health and well-being are contending with these forces and the unprecedented change they bring to our lives and workplaces. 

For example, many organizations, including ours, shifted to an all remote operation. This presents unique challenges in the “new normal” workplace such as continuing to develop strong workplace culture while fighting feelings of isolation, balancing work and childcare while monitoring and maintaining a high-level of productivity. For those not working remotely, HR teams are facing employee burnout and concerns for mental and physical health.

With all the current challenges, leaders around the country are recognizing the need to embrace a stronger focus on empathy for the well-being of everyone, including those with whom we work. 

At Businessolver, we have examined the evolution of empathy in the workplace since 2016 through our State of Workplace Empathy StudySM. Our fifth year of findings reveal that while empathy’s value in the workplace has risen over the years, in these difficult times, progress has stalled, as some examples from this year show: 

  • 68% of employees say their organization is empathetic; 48% say organizations overall are empathetic—both figures represent the lowest rates of the past four years.
  • Employees’ and HR professionals’ ratings of their own organizations’ empathetic behaviors have fallen steadily since 2018.
  • Surveyed for the first time this year, Gen Z employees are more likely to say organizations are empathetic (82%), but older generations are not (65-74%).

Even so, our study has unearthed consistent findings that serve as lessons learned from the past and as a guide for a workplace that has been, and will continue to be, altered for years to come:

  • Workplace empathy has been seen as universally important since our study’s beginnings—by employees, HR professionals and CEOs.
  • Empathy is consistently tied to business impact.
  • Some gaps persist in how empathy is perceived and experienced by members of the workplace, especially between employees and executives.
  • Benefits play a role in building a culture of empathy and supporting an employee’s overall well-being.
  • There is hope for the future, as all groups believe that empathy can be learned.

During challenging times, there is often a pull towards helplessness, fear and inertia. Empathy can help combat these feelings by building and solidifying positive feelings of community and reinforcing support systems. Most of all, empathy can help drive needed and helpful changes in our workplaces for a more inclusive, healthy and productive space. 

For more insights, check out the full 2020 State of Workplace Empathy Study below

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