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Why empathetic leadership is what your employees value most

Posted by Kanika Sinha

December 3, 2021    |     3-minute read (491 words)

Empathy, the ability to recognize and understand others’ needs, feelings and emotions, has always been an important “soft skill” for leaders. But the role of empathy has risen to a new level of importance in the post-pandemic workplace.

Empathetic leadership can be likened to the secret sauce when it comes to retaining and hiring employees amid the Great Resignation, according to the 2021 EY Empathy in Business Survey.  Empathy also contributes to higher levels of happiness and productivity among employees, the survey finds.

Employees want empathetic bosses

It is perhaps no surprise that employees want bosses who exhibit understanding and caring, especially given the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The EY survey’s numbers clearly reflect this sentiment.

In its poll of over 1,000 U.S. employees, EY found that 54% had previously quit a job because the boss wasn’t empathetic to their struggles at work. Meanwhile, 49% had left a previous job because they believed their boss wasn’t empathetic toward struggles in their personal lives.

Below is the percentage of respondents who agreed that empathetic leadership:

leads to better leadership … 89%

inspire positive change in the workplace … 88%

fosters trust among employees … 87%

increases employee productivity … 85%

While empathy in listening to customers has long been deemed essential for building their trust and loyalty, practicing empathy in the workplace is now also deemed crucial by employees. Because the pandemic caused myriad personal and professional challenges for many people, leaders who listen to and act on employee sentiment are more likely to attract and retain talent. The survey also suggests that empathetic leadership offers business benefits such as improved efficiency and higher levels of creativity and innovation.

Trusting that bosses are empathetic is another story

While the survey shows employees prioritize empathetic leadership, it also suggests many feel their companies are all talk and no action when it comes to empathy in the workplace. Among respondents, 46% felt their organization’s efforts toward empathy for employees were “dishonest.” About two in five, or 42%, said their firm “didn’t follow through on promises.”

Despite a business’s pledge to support employees, when a manager or executive takes actions that do not align with the empathy the company espouses as a value, employee trust is quickly eroded.

Empathy is about authenticity

Empathy is more than just an HR initiative. In the workplace, empathetic leadership may require a cultural shift that organizations continually work at. 

Aside from taking the initiative to help employees feel more comfortable in having open discussions, managers should try to model the same behavior. For instance, an employee may better understand why the manager seems distracted at the morning meeting if he shares that he was up all night caring for a sick child.

Wrap-up

Forging a connection with employees and providing a supportive work environment is more important than ever. Leaders must prioritize empathy to foster innovation, stimulate growth and successfully lead business transformation efforts.

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