Cultivating Empathy in the Workplace
Employees deserve to have safe and empathetic work environments, especially now. We are in a time where many people face uncertainties, and the outside world can be stressful. We don't have to let these feelings become overwhelming, though.
It is essential to show all employees that we are all in this together and try our best to understand their circumstances. Practicing empathy in the workplace will create a positive environment for teams and help everyone be productive during these times.
Covid-19 has changed the health and safety protocols throughout the workforce. Check out this Covid-19 training packet to keep you and your employees safe!
What Is Empathy
Empathy and sympathy are easily confused. They are both valid responses to situations, but they are very different. When you experience sympathy, you feel concerned for a person’s well-being and happiness. Empathy, on the other hand, emphasizes a complete and shared understanding of another person’s situation. This understanding and insight can then be used to support people during trying times.
Types of Empathy
Before we learn how to show empathy in our daily workday, it is important to know the different types of empathy.
Emotional empathy is anything but neutral. With this form of empathy, you are connecting with others on a personal level. This form of empathy can change you because you begin to understand others on a deeper level. It can be emotionally taxing, especially on those who are empathic because they take on others' burdens and worries.
This form of empathy can be used in the workplace to invoke deeper connections with coworkers--and customers, for that matter.
Cognitive empathy is less about being receptive to other’s feelings and more about being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes.
Also known as “Taking perspective”, this type of empathy involves no emotional connection. This form of empathy can be useful for management and business purposes. Those who practice cognitive empathy are successful managers because they see an employee's perspective, without becoming emotionally invested in a solution.
Staying neutral is a quality managers can use to acknowledge the best ways to manage their team and complete daily tasks.
Compassionate empathy involves the understanding and emotional support of emotional empathy while taking action to reduce the feelings.
Helping a coworker deal with their problems while also being an active part in that change is one of the best ways to show empathy at work. To actively help someone through an issue can have a more significant impact than just understanding how they feel.
Empathy at Work
Incorporating empathy into the work environment can be done in various ways. Empathy is about committing to listening, understanding differing perspectives, and taking the right actions to make sure your employees feel heard.
Consider Other Perspectives
If you fail to understand why people feel the way they feel, you will not empathize with their perspective. It is hard not to let our own experiences dictate how we feel compared to others; however, it is imperative to set aside your beliefs and truly see why they feel the way they do.
Agreeing and understanding are not the same. You don’t need to agree with another position to empathize with why they have arrived at their conclusion. Instead, respect their opinion, and if you want more clarification, ask for it with compassion.
To show empathy at work, the most important thing to do is to listen actively. If a coworker is voicing their concerns or emotions, they deserve your undivided attention. Only 7% of communication is done through speech. The rest is body language, eye contact, and tone.
To have empathy for a person or situation, you need to be engaged and open to their input. When you listen closely without interrupting, you can feel and better understand their emotions. When you provide your undivided attention, you will more clearly hear their tone, which gives insight into how they feel.
Actions speak louder than words. It's cliche, but it is true. People are more responsive to what you do than to what you say. Taking action shows that you have been listening and that you care and want to help them get to a better place.
Remember to keep your employees’ well being at the forefront. Speaking directly and honestly with your coworkers is a great start, but suggesting ideas on how to make a situation better for them is key to showing empathy. Depending on the situation, asking them what they would like to see come from a situation can also be productive. Make them an active part of the resolution.
Working remotely has recently become the norm for many people around the world. It can be easy to forget that working remotely comes with unique challenges. Social interactions and one-on-one conversations with colleagues no longer exist, creating a gap in how we process empathy. Without the daily interactions, we can forget how to deal with our colleagues’ hardships.
There are a variety of situations that require us to show empathy during remote work. They can all be addressed using the same methods we discussed.
If you live in sunny Florida or California, it's easy to forget that the rest of the country actually has seasons to contend with yearly. The winter months bring frigid weather and shorter days across the country, resulting in mood changes and even seasonal depression.
For completely remote teams, it can be hard to empathize with why productivity or enthusiasm has slowed. When the whole team is not experiencing the same geographical issues, understanding can become difficult.
In this case, it is a good idea to maintain a light and cheerful mood in group meetings. Keeping the workplace light-hearted and comfortable for all employees will help improve all everyone’s mood.
Forces of nature go hand in hand with geographical differences. Natural disasters can induce stressors on the job, especially if you are working from home.
A hurricane closing in on your coworker’s home can cause stress and therefore produce a lack of productivity. Floods or forest fires are natural disasters that can be crippling for some members of your team and not others.
If your remote employees don’t feel comfortable sharing their opinions and troubles in a work setting, they may feel like what is happening in their community doesn’t matter to the team. Create a sense of community by keeping an open line of communication. Proper team training and interaction creates a space where they feel like their daily lives matter to the group.
While we tend not to discuss American politics in the workplace, politics can put a severe strain on an employee's performance for an internationally remote team. International employees can be dealing with a myriad of political issues that can be consuming their thoughts.
We are not always aware of international issues here in the states, but it is imperative to let your employees know that you are available if they need to speak. Let them explain the situation and how it is affecting them. Please give them a safe place when they need it most.
Working from home isn’t always easier than working in an office. Home life is filled with commitments and distractions that can take a toll on employees’ productivity, like dealing with child care, sickness, or illness that can’t be seen.
In these cases, it's best to show empathy by respecting your employees' priorities and not making them feel inadequate for dealing with their daily lives.
When employees know you care and are understanding, it creates an open and inviting work environment. All employees come from different backgrounds and circumstances and want to be understood in the workplace.
Covid-19 has changed the workplace in an unforeseeable way. More than ever, all employees need to feel like their voice and their circumstances matter in the workplace.