Last year was filled with a number of unexpected twists. The coronavirus pandemic was, and still is, a life-altering experience. The massive economic shift on a global scale has highlighted the need to become more empathetic in life and at work. This is the right time to lean on our emotional intelligence and encourage empathy in everything we do. That includes personal development as well as business growth.
Many employers have learned — sometimes the hard way — that soft skills can make or break a worker’s morale. At the same time, understanding the emotional health and sentiment of customers not only expands a business leader’s views on a personal level, but also creates the groundwork to drive meaningful engagement and gain a competitive advantage.
In 2021, here’s how we can induce a culture of empathy in the workplace.
1. Listen and respond with honesty.
For business leaders, one way to get buy-in from team members is to listen without being judgmental. Empathetic leadership often involves saying nothing and sometimes admitting that we are confused, angry or disappointed. According to astudypublished in theJournal of Behavioral Science, even high achieving people sometimes feel like they are being perceived as imposters. Imagine how refreshing it would be if our team gets to know that leaders, too, struggle as much as they do.
How: Never allow long spells of negative emotions. Encourage honest discussions focused on positivity. Choose your words carefully. For instance, when someone in the position of authority says, “I feel you all should resume work” with an undercurrent of command in their tone, they stop being empathetic. Instead, asking a question along the lines of, “When do you think you can resume work?” conveys empathy.
2. Be more accessible and visible.
To understand our teams better, we have to understand our own emotions. The pandemic resulted in many layoffs and furloughs. While it is still not over, global economies are slowly recovering from the crisis. If we must break faith with an employee, we must not do it coldly.
How:Be graceful and compassionate. Lend an empathetic ear. Most importantly, be available to talk, whether in person or via a video call. Even if the organization is not affected, take time to express your emotions and help your team navigate their fears. Add a daily reminder to your calendar. That little “ping” will remind you to pause and reflect on your day and your feelings so you are able to connect with your team in a much better way.
3. Elevate customer experience.
Management consulting firm Eagle Hill, in a2019 study, found that 74% of employees agree that workplace culture has a direct impact on how they serve customers. A culture of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), for instance, lets a team pursue a purpose and be passionate about it. Such an environment fosters excellence in customer service.
How: Communicate not only with internal team members but also with customers on a regular basis. Act on customers’ feedback immediately and focus on building partnerships that go beyond transactional relationships. In this day and age, collaboration is the key to fostering shared values around a common mission.
4. Encourage creativity.
Empathy and creativity have a direct correlation,saysDr. Glenn Geher, professor of psychology at the State University of New York at New Paltz. Empathetic teams, he says, have a broader outlook that breaks down workplace dogmas. Emotional intelligence allows us to think creatively, which leads to increased collaboration, innovation and productivity. A creative workplace liberates employees to overcome the fear of failure and connect with each other at a deeper and more human level.
How:Build programs where people can drop in and throw around new ideas, share experiences with each other and collaborate on important projects. Solicit creative suggestions from employees when you hit a stumbling block.
5. Reskill and upskill.
Post-pandemic, companies are focused on reskilling and upskilling their workforce to decrease turnover and save on recruitment and training costs. Once again, this reflects an empathetic approach in that it helps workers learn new skills and retain their jobs.
How: Have internship and apprenticeship programs for both internal staff and new talent. To encourage an exchange of skills and knowledge, expand the scope of buddy and mentorship programs within the organization.