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The Importance of Empathy in the Workplace

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The Importance of Empathy in the Workplace

The Importance of Empathy in the Workplace

Though organizations view work as distinct from the rest of employees’ personal lives, studies have shown that this approach does not lead to higher productivity. 

Rather than asking employees to “check” their personal lives at the door, empathetic workplaces embrace employees as whole people and give grace during difficult times. 

Why Empathy in the Workplace Matters

Employees are regular people with their own unique sets of thoughts and feelings as they navigate the ups and downs of life. Empathy in work calls for employees, managers, and organization leaders to remember these truths in their interactions. 

When people feel disrespected at work or like they can’t experience their true feelings during difficult times, their work satisfaction will decrease. This often leads to increased turnover, plummeting productivity, and a worsening reputation for your employer brand. 

What Situations Call for Empathy in the Workplace?

A healthy workplace environment will always have people practicing empathy, but some scenarios especially call for it. 

Personal Challenges

First, demonstrate empathy to colleagues going through difficulties in their personal life. Some people prefer to focus on work during hard times, but others will struggle to apply themselves to their jobs when distressing life events happen. 

In these situations, allow grace wherever possible. You might offer the employee some paid time off, give them more time to accomplish their work, or just offer to listen whenever they want to talk about what’s happening. 

Managers must acknowledge that though meeting business goals is important, it’s not as important as an employee’s well-being

Sharing Difficult News

Another situation that calls for empathy in the workplace is when someone needs to be told bad news. Being terminated for any reason is never a positive experience, but communicating the news gently and with genuine empathy may help the employee process it better. 

Diversity and Inclusion

Additionally, empathy encompasses a sensitivity to the experiences of others. For example, if you were chosen for a promotion but someone else wasn’t, empathy would discourage you from bragging about your victory in front of them. 

This also includes an awareness of other peoples’ daily experiences, such as being part of a minority group. 

In this situation, it’s important to note that people who don’t share marginalizing experiences will likely never fully understand that experience. However, seeking to place themselves in someone else’s shoes is a good starting point. 

Positive Effects of Empathy in the Workplace

Empathy in the workplace has been shown to positively transform working environments. Still, these studies have found that empathy must be paired with action to achieve these results. Otherwise, employees feel that the kindness displayed is just for show. 

So, what positive results can you expect to notice in a genuinely empathetic environment? 

1. Building Stronger Relationships

Whatever industry you’re in, workplace cohesiveness and productivity depend on trust. Without empathy, developing that trust becomes much more difficult. 

If you believe your coworker is oblivious to your experience or perspective, you likely won’t trust them to act with your best interest in mind. The same is true for the relationships between employees and managers, all the way up to the CEO. 

Empathy is also accompanied by markedly improved communication and collaboration. When employees feel their colleagues truly see them, they will be more likely to strive to communicate clearly and compromise where necessary. 

On the other hand, if you feel that their coworkers make no effort to understand things from their perspective, they might not be motivated to extend that courtesy to them, causing a rippling communication breakdown. 

Moreover, team dynamics will improve in a more empathetic workplace. Even if you disagree with someone, being able to visualize things from their point of view facilitates a more respectful and productive dialogue. 

2. Increased Employee Engagement

Empathy in the workplace will bring many positive outcomes, including employee engagement. If employees feel they must keep their emotions hidden at work or can’t admit they need a break during a difficult time, they will experience high stress levels and burnout. 

On the other hand, when employees feel supported by their employer to take a mental health day when necessary or safe to admit that they’re feeling burnt out, the problems will be addressed earlier, often leading to increased engagement when the employee returns to work. 

3. Empathetic Leaders Produce Better Results

Beyond the dynamics between employees, there is much to be gained from practicing empathy as a leader. For example, imagine a leader decides to increase the workload right around the holidays. 

Though this might make sense from a financial perspective, from an empathetic perspective, this idea will be wildly unpopular with the team, ultimately leading to higher turnover rates and decreased job satisfaction. 

Professional empathy is a vital leadership competency as it enables employers to understand their obligation to ensure employees a positive work experience. 

Company culture is often influenced from the top down, so encouraging empathy in leadership will only cause positive ripples in the rest of your organization

4. Improved Conflict Resolution

Another benefit of workplace empathy is improved conflict resolution. When coworkers communicate with empathy, they see things from the other person’s perspective and can choose their words with an understanding of how they will affect the recipient. 

Additionally, constructive criticism and feedback are essential for performance improvement, but if the message is communicated poorly, employees may feel discouraged rather than motivated to improve. 

5. Diversity and Inclusion

As stated earlier, empathy is also an effective tool for understanding diverse perspectives and creating an inclusive workplace. Empathy is a critical component of emotional intelligence, and many diversity initiatives fail because employees feel they are not genuine. 

Avoid this by implementing diversity and inclusion practices rooted in empathy rather than an effort to improve public image.  

6. Customer Satisfaction

Last but not least, empathy in the workplace will positively impact your customer service! When addressing customer complaints, beginning by expressing empathy will go a long way in smoothing over their grievances. 

That means, whether it was your organization’s fault or not, you can apologize that the customer is having a negative experience, paving the way for an easier resolution process. 

Empathy in customer service will help your organization meet and exceed customer needs and expectations while boosting your positive brand reputation. 

Developing Professional Empathy

Now that we’ve covered the importance of professional empathy in the workplace, you might wonder how to implement it into your organization’s cultural fabric. 

Ultimately, empathy is an innate trait that an employer can’t force their employees to develop. Still, they can implement it in the day-to-day guidelines for how employees treat each other. 

Trainings and workshops that feature empathetic thinking and workplace conduct can teach the members of your organization how to interact with each other and even offer guidelines for placing themselves in each others’ shoes. 

Again, culture is often influenced from the top down, so ensuring your organization hires empathetic leaders is critical if you’d like to see it trickle down to all employees. 

Finally, an empathetic workplace will never develop if your organization’s actions do not support it. Even if you verbally encourage empathy or offer workshops about it, it won’t catch on if organizational practices do not reflect this value. 

For example, disciplining someone for failing to come to work on a day they experienced a loss demonstrates a shocking lack of empathy, and other employees will undoubtedly take notice. 

Challenges and Barriers to Empathy in the Workplace 

Deciding to prioritize empathy in the workplace is easy, but implementing it can be challenging. A few factors might get in the way of creating an empathetic workplace. 

Resistance to change is a human tendency, and workplace initiatives are no exception. Be patient in working to change your corporate culture, as change will not happen overnight and employees may need to observe leadership enacting new values before they adopt them themselves. 

If someone displays continual difficulty expressing empathy, it may be worth checking in with them to see if there is a deeper problem.

Though empathy is an invaluable skill in the workplace and beyond, it is possible to take things too far. Everyone deserves empathy during difficult times, but if an employee is taking advantage of this policy, the solution does not lie in increasing empathy. 

In the long run, professional empathy should improve productivity, not the reverse, so keep an eye on your long-term metrics to ensure you’ve implemented the proper balances. 

Lastly, empathy fatigue can occur, and it’s a good thing to watch. However, the level of empathy required for a healthy and supportive workplace should not place undue strain on any individual. 


Is empathy a good job skill?

Empathy can be an asset in any job, as it enables better listening skills, more effective communication, and improved leadership skills. Empathetic leaders can understand things from someone else’s perspective and communicate decisions in a manner that unites teams in a common purpose.

What are the differences between emotional empathy, cognitive empathy, and compassionate empathy?

Emotional empathy involves sharing and experiencing the emotions of others, cognitive empathy focuses on understanding their thoughts and perspectives, while compassionate empathy combines both, leading to not only feeling what someone feels and comprehending their viewpoint but also feeling a deep sense of caring and a desire to help or support them. Emotional empathy connects us emotionally to others, cognitive empathy helps us understand their inner world, and compassionate empathy drives us to take action and provide assistance, making it a powerful force for building meaningful connections and fostering empathy-driven actions in our interactions with others.

How does empathy impact a manager's job performance?

In many industries, management is critical to keep things running smoothly. Put simply, managers are engaged in organizing, motivating, and equipping other employees to do their jobs. When employees feel their manager cares about them and their work experience, they are more likely to perform their best. Therefore, empathetic leadership is critical for effective management.

Can empathy skills be taught?

Though empathy itself might not be teachable in a professional setting, empathy skills can be. Employees can learn to improve their listening skills to facilitate deeper understanding and as well as work on improved perception of nonverbal cues. The more empathetic practices employees display, the more empathetic connections can be facilitated.