Creating An Empathetic Workplace

8/25/2015

One axiom that holds true across businesses and industries is that an organization is only as good as its people. We in the cultural competence field can add that an organization’s people are only as good as the relationships between them.  

When employees are able to connect in a supportive and respectful environment, they become more engaged, which leads to better outcomes for employees, their colleagues, and the company as a whole.

The Cultural Orientations Approach is built around concepts that help leaders create supportive and respectful workplace environments – concepts such as empathy, the ability to relate to the thoughts and experiences of others, and to show it in a way that encourages an open and understanding atmosphere.

As with all behaviors, leaders who want to promote empathy in their organizations should start by modeling it themselves. The results should be immediately visible. Studies have found that executives who convey empathy are viewed as more productive by their peers and employees. At the same time, employees who have empathetic bosses tend to work harder toward group goals. Because of its benefits to employee satisfaction and thus the bottom line, leaders should treat creating a culture of empathy as an investment in their workforce.  

The first step for leaders to do this is to listen to their employees and make it clear that they are a priority. Keeping an “open door” to employees lets them feel free to air any grievances or ask for help, which helps management effectively respond to them.

For instance, many companies are introducing diversity and inclusion programs, which means that new hires may come from a variety of different ethnic, linguistic, generational and gender-related backgrounds. Leaders in this situation must display an attitude of openness toward the feelings and needs of their new hires, and address any discomfort veteran employees may feel with the changing dynamics of the workforce. As another example, leaders can also reach out to employees who have dependent children or elderly parents who may need them during regular working hours, and come up with flexible working arrangements.

Another way to show empathy is for leaders to preemptively tackle difficulties employees may face, putting themselves in their employees’ shoes, so to speak. This could mean imagining the hurdles employees with physical handicaps may face moving around the office in a wheelchair or attending meetings if they have a hearing impairment. By addressing issues of accessibility even before an employee brings it up, leaders can show their employees that their comfort is a priority. 

Showing empathy is a key part of displaying cultural competence, which is part of the overall Cultural Orientations Approach. Fostering an empathetic company culture shows employees they are cared about, which in turn leads to greater morale and engagement. This is good for the employee and their company as a whole.