Does Empathy Belong in the Workplace?

By Barbara Mitchell
HR Expert and Co-Author
The Essential HR Handbook

Does empathy belong in the workplace? Absolutely!

Empathy is a key component of emotional intelligence and is a critical skill for any good leader or manager to possess and use. Strong leaders know that to move their organizations forward, they need to understand the people who make it happen.

A recent study on empathy by the Center for Creative Leadership showed that empathy is positively related to job performance, and what leader doesn’t want to encourage productivity?

Is empathy one of those qualities we either have or don’t have? No, empathy can be learned. While some leaders naturally exude empathy and have an advantage over their peers who don’t have it, those without it can be coached in how to increase their empathic skills.

Organizations can encourage empathy and help managers by letting them know that empathy makes a difference in the workplace.

Empathy is exhibited through spending time with employees—giving them your time and attention.

One of the best skills to develop that helps show empathy is listening!

Listening is a skill that is sometimes overlooked. We focus a great deal more attention on presentation skills or verbal communication abilities. But, being an empathetic listener is extremely important and can go a long way toward increasing employee satisfaction and engagement.

Employees who describe their managers as being good listeners feel more respected and in turn, more trusting of the organization and its leadership.

There doesn’t appear to be any difference among the generations on the impact of empathy—everyone wants to feel that he or she is understood!

Showing empathy is a great way to build strong relationships between employee and manager or leader.

Demonstrating empathy shows respect for the individual, and respect is something that any good leader or manager must have to be successful.

Any time you can imagine another person’s point of view—no matter what you think of it—you will have a more effective and positive working relationship and, hopefully, productivity will increase due to each person’s skills being used effectively.

And, in case you think that empathy is a “soft skill,” consider this: Lt. General William Pagonis, director of logistics during the Gulf War said, “No one is a leader who can’t put himself or herself in another person’s shoes. Empathy and expertise command respect.”

About Barbara Mitchell

Mitchell is a human resources and organization development consultant who is widely known in the areas of recruitment and retention. She has experience in both for-profit and nonprofit sectors and has consulted for a variety of organizations around the world.

She served in senior human-resources leadership positions with Marriott International and several technology firms in the Washington, DC, area before co-founding the Millennium Group International, which she sold in 2008.

Her books include The Essential HR Handbook, and The Big Book of HR. Click here to buy the book.