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Why Empathy Matters

In October 2021, the World Economic Forum declared: “empathy has risen to the top of the board’s agenda”. With the pandemic putting many into difficult circumstances, employers have been forced to rethink strategies in retaining their talents.

No longer is a hip and stylish office, or a well-equipped pantry enough to improve workplace engagement. Almost overnight, managers have become the frontliners in delivering the needs of employees. And with such demands, competence no longer means just delivering tasks on time or producing great results. Being competent now also means being empathetic.

A survey conducted by Catalyst revealed, six out of ten employees with highly empathetic senior leaders report being more innovative at work compared to one out of ten for those with less empathetic senior leaders.

The pandemic has forced businesses to stop treating employees as “replaceable” parts of their organizations. In fact, a shift to a more “empathetic organizational culture” is one of the main themes that emerged in research on digital employee experience in the latest Digital Workplace Trends report.

But what is empathy anyway?

Outside of work, empathy means having the ability to connect or relate with the feelings of another. At work, this now means having employers and co-workers who can understand that their peers are more than just the person who turns up for work.

In a Fortune article, Vanessa Ferguson, senior vice president of people and experience at LiveTiles, shared how the company witnessed what this meant firsthand in the first few weeks of the pandemic.

“When we originally shifted to working from home, it was very evident that some people had a home office setup, good internet connectivity, and either no kids or their kids were being looked after by a relative. Then there were people who were just really not able to adjust. We needed to get in and help them,” Ferguson said.

This meant reaching out and listening to what employees had to say. New employee engagement platforms like Reach allowed people to seamlessly perform their tasks even outside of the workplace with its streamlined communication process. By giving employees a chance and a platform to air their needs, the company was able to craft a better support system as lockdowns continued and circumstances varied across regions.

Unfortunately, this empathetic approach in leadership is not the norm. A survey by the Center for Creative Leadership reveals that not everyone is naturally empathetic, but it can be learned. “Active listening” and making a “conscious choice of the most appropriate verbal and non-verbal language” in the workplace are some of the steps business leaders may take to inculcate a more empathetic environment.

How Empathy Can Affect Workplace Culture

The same survey by the Center for Creative Leadership also added: “empathetic leaders are assets to organizations, in part, because they are able to effectively build and maintain relationships—a critical part of leading organizations anywhere in the world.” With social issues continuing to hound the news cycle—from racism to climate—change, an empathetic leader at work is definitely a welcome reprieve for employees.

Such a set-up also gives workers a better environment to deliver their tasks effectively. Empathetic leaders may spell a world of difference to the lives of workers, as they feel more supported to become more than just members of the workplace. After all, World Economic Forum has already said: mental health, stress, and burnout are now perceived as responsibilities of the organization. The failure to deploy empathy means less innovation, lower engagement, and reduced loyalty.”

In the post-pandemic workplace, kindness is now a highly valued human skill.