In the past months, a lot has been said about how the pandemic has disrupted businesses and organisations and brought a host of problems of adjustment for companies and employees.
Further, a lot has also been said about remote employees feeling disconnected, the rates of burnout going up, and a general feeling of demotivation and low morale. This has led to the perception that these are all pandemic-related problems.
However, the truth is that these problems existed previously – even before remote working and before the pandemic. The current situation has only amplified them because they have been swept under the carpet for so long.
Nevertheless, there has always been a way through these problems, and it has become even more relevant- given the situation.
The key to the way forward for every modern workplace lies in empathetic leadership.
What’s Empathy Got to Do With It?
To understand how empathetic leadership is the way forward, first, let us understand what empathy is all about.
All of us have heard of the phrase “walking in someone else’s shoes”.
Empathy is precisely this – looking at the world from another’s perspective. Empathy does not mean feeling sorry for someone, but it is about stepping into their shoes and understanding their feelings and needs. And this is what a lot of organisations are missing today – the whole aspect of empathy and understanding – they have become too transactional in nature.
Empathy does not mean feeling sorry for someone, but it is about stepping into their shoes and understanding their feelings and needs. And this is what a lot of organisations are missing today – the whole aspect of empathy and understanding – they have become too transactional in nature.
Further, every leader has their own leadership style, but some styles can actually be detrimental for the company. For example, some leaders believe they need to be aloof and uncaring to be effective. However, a lack of compassion and empathy only helps them create negative relationships, impacting employee performance and the company’s bottom line.
On the other hand, empathetic leadership sets a positive tone and the culture in the workplace. It is a foundation for mutual respect, human connection and unselfishness. And these, in turn, increase organisational morale, productivity and employee loyalty.
This is why empathetic leadership becomes crucial.Empathy and trust are crucial to ensuring a positive working environment, a strong organisational structure, business survival and continuity. Click To Tweet
Empathetic Leadership and the Modern Workplace
The rapidly changing business environment and work culture have required the modern workplace to keep up with the constant flux.
It may seem counterintuitive to believe that empathetic leadership has anything to do with the company’s adaptability- but it does. It plays a huge role in keeping employees on board and being able to adapt to constant change. Empathy actually becomes vital for organisations to survive and succeed.
Let’s look at how it plays a part in shaping the modern workplace.
1. Creating connections
It goes without saying that people who have stronger connections work better together- both in terms of teamwork and enjoyability.
By understanding, supporting employees, and building solid relationships, leaders can build trust and, as a result, better relationships with their employees. This is the way to better collaboration and greater productivity. In fact, research shows that 84% of CEOs believe that empathy drives better business outcomes .
Studies suggest that empathy is an important factor in developing trust and can improve employee performance . Where there are strong bonds and trust, good things happen.
Hence, empathy and trust are crucial to ensuring a positive working environment, a strong organisational structure, business survival and continuity.
2. Enhancing adaptability
Right now, companies need to be agile and pivot with the rapidly changing situation. However, doing this is not possible unless you have all your employees on board. Studies have also shown that empathy helps employees to have a positive attitude towards adjusting to new environments and trends.
Empathetic leadership causes employees to be more motivated and adapt faster in coping with new environments.
3. Increasing collaboration
Empathetic leaders also help create a cooperative atmosphere.
When leaders and employees can connect to each other, are aware of each other’s feelings, and can genuinely recognise their contributions, they build stronger and more effective interpersonal relations , which could, in turn, help build a strong foundation of trust and remove leader-employee barriers.
On the whole, empathetic leaders know that the bottom line of any business can only be achieved with the help and co-operation of its people.
4. Lowering stress
Many factors can cause stress. However, it is physiologically processed in the same way – it elevates our stress-response hormones and makes us alert. But over a long period of time, this state of alertness can be unhealthy.
When people make an effort to really understand each other, they can better relate to each other in positive ways. Empathy is a simple yet effective way to foster healthier interpersonal work relationships and prevent unnecessary stress. It helps because it allows employees to understand other peoples’ perspectives and opinions, making the work environment more positive, productive, and enjoyable.
5. Preventing burnout
Burnout has always been a concern . However, the feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to focus on work has become more prevalent during the pandemic. Many employees have thus lost interest and joy in their work. Worse still, some have gone down the dark road of work-related anger, frustration, and depression.
When leaders have empathetic skills, they can also handle difficult work situations, communicate better, understand their employees better and feel better understood themselves. In fact, a recent study showed that 77 % of employees say they’d work longer hours for an empathetic employer.
On the whole, empathy helps to promote collaboration which in turn helps to prevent burnout.
Key Traits of Empathetic Leaders
Empathetic leaders have certain qualities that make them stand apart. Let’s look at a few:
1. Empathetic leaders listen
Often, employees feel that they are not being heard- this ends up making them feel that they are just a cog in the wheel. A good leader actively listens and ensures every team member has a voice.
By listening actively, a good leader shows that they are interested in what their people are going through, and they want to hear all they have to say. In addition, telling employees that you are hearing them creates a sense of connection.
Great leaders spend more time listening than talking; this helps others feel heard and recognised. They do not judge but learn and grow from what they hear. However, active listening also means understanding the emotions behind the words and observing nonverbal cues like body language, tone of voice, and mannerisms. These help to understand a person’s state of mind.
And thus, better understanding helps leaders communicate well and make good decisions.By listening actively, a good leader shows that they are interested in what their people are going through, and they want to hear all they have to say. Click To Tweet
2. Empathetic leaders are approachable
Being a leader does not mean hiding behind a hierarchy or being intimidating to the lower rungs of employees.
Approachable leaders enable their teams to come to them with good or bad news. They keep all the channels of communication open and make their team members feel comfortable approaching them. Unfortunately, power creates distance between leaders and their employees – being approachable bridges that gap .
Thus, being accessible and approachable is the secret sauce to being an empathetic leader- a person that employees can look to for guidance and help.
3. Empathetic leaders are flexible
Empathetic leaders are adaptable; they can adjust to the ideas, propositions and opinions of other people. For example, if someone from the team has a relevant and innovative idea, an empathetic leader will evaluate it and adopt it.
Empathetic and flexible leaders embrace change, are open to new ideas, and can work with a diverse range of people. Leaders of the modern workplace have to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity as they have to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty as to the new normal , and hence flexibility is a valuable trait.
How Empathy Can Be Propagated in the Company
Propagating empathy in the company is not an easy feat. Empathy takes a positive initiative, consciousness and a great deal of effort.
Also, learning empathy can often be a struggle for people, both emotionally and mentally. This is because being empathetic means that they have to invest themselves in the struggles, issues, problems, and lives of colleagues. However, nothing worth doing comes easily.
Here are a few ways in which organisations can start the journey to an empathetic environment in the company:
1. It all starts with the leadership
Empathy has to start at the top. If leaders themselves do not learn to be empathetic, they cannot ask their employees to do so.
On the flip side, if they themselves are empathetic, it will have a domino effect and trickle down to the rest of the organisation. Treating people with dignity, respect and empathy is contagious, so it is bound to spread to everyone in the organisation.
2. Understanding different viewpoints
Everyone has an opinion and a perspective, and this is neither right nor wrong- it is just their way of looking at things. While it’s crucial to acknowledge this, some leaders feel that theirs is the only right perspective. This often does more good than bad.
Hence, becoming more aware and understanding other people’s perspectives is key. If leaders can practice this and encourage people around them to do the same, it becomes easier for everyone to develop empathy.
3. Not making assumptions
Assumptions and empathy just do not go together . Assumptions are never based on true understanding or experience. Empathetic leaders recognise that preconceived notions cannot solve problems, but understanding the whole picture does.
So, to empathise is to fully understand before drawing conclusions and promoting this in the organisation can avoid many conflicts.
4. Identifying personal biases
Everyone comes with their own set of unconscious biases. Often these influence the way they communicate and react to people. For example, people can react differently in similar situations and depending on who they are dealing with. Biases can dictate if people are empathetic with some and indifferent to others.
Therefore, encouraging everyone to introspect and be mindful of their biases is a good step towards being empathetic.
5. Being pleasant
Encouraging employees to be nice to each other is an excellent way to inculcate a culture of empathy. Encourage them to treat everyone the way they would want to be treated. This is neither difficult to understand nor do, and soon, everyone will treat each other well. Being supportive and understanding does not cost anything, and it goes a long way in creating an empathetic environment.
Empathy will play a crucial role in every modern workplace that wants to tide the current situation and emerge victoriously, and it should start with leadership.
However, some leaders are more empathetic than others- they will have an advantage when it comes to being effective motivators and figureheads.
But the good news is that empathy is a skill, and any skill can be developed . With enough time and introspection, business leaders can improve their empathy skills. Empathy can also be developed through training and coaching.
Overall, when leaders are empathetic, it can have a “domino effect” wherein everyone behaves like them. This will create a culture of empathy and understanding throughout the organisation, improving recruitment, retention, employee well-being, and reduce turnover.
Although learning empathy takes time and effort, it is well worth it. It may be challenging to put employees’ needs ahead of everything else in today’s competitive workplace. But the true success of an organisation can never come at the cost of its people.
And now, it’s your turn! If you have noticed how empathy has made a difference in your leadership style, tell us about it! Go ahead, leave us a comment or get in touch with us- we would love to hear from you!