Page Updated on July 8, 2022

In order to have the most productive and happiest possible workforce, ensuring that managers are trained and have an understanding of empathy is vital. A manager with good empathy skills is one who has a good rapport with their employees and who is able to show compassion and understanding when it comes to the feelings and emotions of their staff. So how can we improve empathy in the workplace?

How to improve empathy in the workplace

What Is Empathy in the Workplace?

Empathy in the workplace refers to having a good understanding and ability to show compassion and to understand the emotions, experiences, and thoughts of employees.

Staff who feel that they are being led by a manager who understands them and has compassion for them is much more likely to respond work-wise.

Numerous studies have shown how greater empathy at work improves the overall productivity levels and helps to generate a happier workforce.

10 Ways to Build Empathy at Work

1. Create a Culture of Emotional Intelligence

When teaching managers and other employees about Emotional Intelligence in the workplace, some of the solutions are also relevant for improving workplace empathy.

Consider, for example doing the following:

  • Using people’s first name
  • Practice some small talk (enough to build some rapport and to be firiendly)
  • Develop back-pocket questions (these are general questions that are easy to ask)
  • Be open about yourself
  • Show interest in other people
  • Don’t give mixed signals
  • Remember the small but important things (such as thanking and complimenting people when they do a good job)
  • Take feedback well and give it fairly
  • Be dependable, reliable and honest
Improving emotional; intelligence in an organization for managers
>> PPT PowerPoint slide from the Emotional Intelligence materials

2. Understanding Menopause When Managing Others

Training that is aimed at both men and women so that all managers have a better understanding of how many female colleagues can be impacted by the menopause, is worth considering.

Such a high percentage of managers and team leaders are men and having a basic understanding of the facts around menopause can greatly aid the effort to build a greater empathy will colleagues you manage.

A basic course such as a 1-hour crash course for all managers can include the following :

  • Advice for managers, HR, and employees
  • Symptoms of the menopause

Such a course aims to help employees, such as managers and team leaders, to better understand how they can support those going through menopause. This course is especially useful for teaching male managers and staff.

3. Learning to Listen Properly

Listening is such an important skill, especially when it is done correctly.

When we truly listen to others, we pick up far more information than we do when we half-listen, i.e. when we are too preoccupied with thinking of our own reply that we want to say, rather than what is being said.

Listening is a skill and it can be acquired with practice!

How does someone know if you are listening to them?

  • Eye contact
  • Verbal and non-verbal cues, i.e. head nodding
  • Because you ask follow-up and related questions
  • Because you show empathy and understanding in relation to what they are saying
Active listening PPT PowerPoint slide
From the Active Listening Teaching Materials Pack

4. Provide Support for Managers and Employees

In order to help build workplace empathy, as a company or human resources department, you need to support your managers and employees.

There should be a clear line of support for everyone at every level in the company.

Whether we are dealing with a new employee, a manager, a line worker, a senior manager, or someone who works in HR, every employee should have access and know, how to find personal support when they need it.

Consider building a workplace support network such as by:

  • Using your Intranet to provide clear information on all points of contact in the company for a range of issues
  • Having a mentor to help new employees for the first 90-days of their employment (as this is the key time period during which such as high percentage of new employees otherwise leave and that means high rehiring and retraining costs)
  • Having managers who are trained in understanding how to support colleagues, i.e. through empathy training

5. Work Towards Eliminating Bias in the Workplace

Whay kind of bias exist at work between employees
From the Inclusive Leadership PPT PowerPoint Slides

It is far easier to create a work environment where empathy is the norm when common biases are reduced.

We can never, in reality, be completely free of bias. We in fact all have biases based on our upbringing and past.

It is when these biases though negatively and unfairly affect other people that these biases become unacceptable.

The good news is that we can improve our awareness of our own biases, i.e. we can become more conscious of our own thought processes and put in place techniques to create more equality at work.

Providing training such as a short 1 or 2-hour workshop in Unconscious Bias training can be a great way to:

  • build a workplace where colleagues feel better treated
  • and, as a result of this, you find that empathy and understanding will be greater between colleagues

6. Build Rapport with Colleagues and Those You manage

As a manager, if you can find a way to connect with each employee, you in essence are building a rapport and this makes it easier for you to genuinely feel and show them empathy.

Workplace rapport

The easiest way to build this rapport is to find something that you have in common with them and you can do this in a number of ways:

  • Invite anyone new to the team to do a brief (i.e. 3 minutes) presentation to the team about themselves, i.e. to include their previous experience but also what they love to do in their spare time
  • Hold a team-building morning or afternoon and use team-building activities that focus on employees discussing their hobbies and interest. Bring out these interests so that you and your colleagues can all discover new interesting things about each other.
  • In weekly or monthly staff meetings, have one or two people each time do a brief presentation about themselves so that colleagues can get to know them better (i.e., what do they also love to do outside of work)?
  • In one-to-one meetings that you hold, i.e. annual reviews when you discuss their career development plan, spend a few minutes to chat with colleagues about their interests and hobbies or anything that gives you a change to get to know them better, but without being in any ways intrusive (i.e. if they are clearly uncomfortable to discuss their interests).

7. Consider Using AI Empathy Software

Considering that we send and receive so many emails every day, and we sometimes also use Twitter, Instagram, and other social media as a part of our work, there is always the chance to easily miscommunicate via digital correspondence.

With all of these messages that we send and receive, it might not be a surprise to you to hear that emotions and feelings are sometimes misunderstood in these messages.

With digital communication, without our body language being visible, the content can sometimes be otherwise lost.

It only takes one misunderstood email, for example, to potentially lose a customer or to upset an employee.

This is where AI (Artificial Intelligence) software potentially plays a role as several companies are now developing empathy software to help you ensure that any messages you do send show the right empathy levels.

One company developing such software is MPathic.

Empathy in the Workplace Statistics

If you were to wonder how important or not empathy at work is, then some interesting statistics from Business Solver are food for thought. They report that:

  • No more than 25% of employees feel that empathy is taken seriously enough in their company
  • Over 80% of CEOs of companies believe that better empathy in the workplace would improve business results and productivity
  • Over 70% of employees say that they would be more motivated if empathy was stronger at work

It is difficult sometimes to quantify the effectiveness of intangible effects such as feelings and emotions at work. The studies that have taken place though, show plenty of evidence of the importance of empathy at work.

Some academic research studies, for example, support the effectiveness of workplace empathy including these studies:

Importance of Empathy in the Workplace – A Summary

Traditionally, one would look solely at the work itself when analyzing productivity levels. These days though, a much greater understanding exists that by looking after employees themselves, the company will directly benefit.

It is now accepted by most companies that empathy plays a valuable role when it comes to employee satisfaction and the resulting levels of productivity.

The employee feels better understood, the manager sees more responsive employees, and the company achieves better results. Furthermore though, as a company, we also have a duty of care to all employees. So empathy is important!

Classroom lesson plans

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Dr Valeria (Lo Iacono) Symonds

Valeria has been involved with education for over 16 years. She has taught in the UK at the University of Bath and Cardiff Metropolitan University (where she got her PhD), in addition to working as a researcher at Exeter University. Valeria additionally has several years of experience of also working with Ofsted and Cardiff University in management roles & is she is the founder of Symonds Training.

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