It’s time for empathy in the workplace

Emma Bridger

10 Mar 2023
Employee Experience
Employee Engagement
Empathy sits at the heart of the new mandate at work and it is at the heart of our EX approach. Empathy is the ability to recognise emotions in others and to understand what they’re feeling and why. We believe it’s an underrated skill within the workplace.
In Tim Cook’s 2017 MIT commencement address, he warned graduates, “People will try to convince you that you should keep empathy out of your career. Don’t accept this false premise.”

We know that empathic workplaces are good for business as research shows that they enjoy stronger collaboration, lower levels of stress and higher morale. Jamil Zaki, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and author of The War For Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World argues that the ability to make people feel noticed, heard and understood at work, is an organisational superpower that is currently underused. But just how do you go about developing empathy at work?

First of all, it’s important to recognise that empathy is a skill that can be taught, developed and nurtured. This can happen at both an individual level, as well as an organisational level. We can focus leadership programmes on developing empathy and deliberately design a culture that fosters and rewards empathy.
At the simplest level, we need to make time for human connections at work, now more than ever, when many of us are working remotely. Jamil suggests making time at the beginning and end of meetings for example, to get to know colleagues as people, not just work colleagues.

Research from Jamil also found that empathy is contagious we can actually “catch” care and altruism from others. So we need to make empathy loud, role-model it, talk about it and lead by example. Often the loudest voices are not the most empathic, we need to notice this and call it out to change the social norms within our workplaces.

To build empathic cultures, research shows that identifying those people who are well connected can help to champion the cause – this also increases the likelihood that new behaviours will be embedded.

Creating and using employee personas is also helpful for developing empathy and work. Personas are a thinking tool that enable you to step into the shoes of those people you are designing experiences for. We have a wealth of resources on Personas so make sure you check them out if this is something you’re interested in developing in your organization.

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