The Business of Being Empathetic
We’re missing a trick; while we search for ways to boost profits, generate different sources of revenue and reach new audiences, we underestimate the significance of empathy. The ability to understand and experience the feelings of another is the competitive edge that many businesses, leaders and organisations are lacking.
Many of us have become disillusioned by all the awful things happening in and to the world. Some blame the media for sensationalism and misrepresentation, others humanity for the nastiness of our race. But I would argue that we are far more inclined to be good than evil. Whether things have got worse or better, empathy is more critical than ever. Empathy is not just an essential part of human nature but it also needs to be a “foundational value in the modern workplace”.
A gap like the one between high profits and low customer satisfaction can usually be attributed to empathy, or rather, the lack of it. It’s often the invisible part of the business that bleeds — but it’s this invisible force that can push a business forward. By introducing empathy training and practices into their organisation, Midland Memorial Hospital in Texas took their customer satisfaction from 1% to 90%.
Empathy has gone far beyond a passing craze; again and again, it’s proven to drive positive change and improve business performance. There’s no clear answer to why empathy is so frequently overlooked. Perhaps it’s because it’s part of the human condition, so we expect it. It also has a perception of being abstract, and it is in some ways, being difficult to track and measure. But like anything else in business, it requires real effort, it needs to be taught, nurtured and practised.
Organisational structures are changing and people are now more discerning when it comes to choosing their future employer. People seek out more than just a paycheck, they want value, a real connection to what they’re doing. It’s more important than ever for companies to differentiate themselves, to have a culture that will attract talent, and moreover, retain them. Empathy is key here.
Being empathetic brings with it a range of sustainable benefits. Most notably, employee engagement and retention. The 2019 Businesssolver “State of Workplace Empathy” study reports that 93% of employees are likely to stay with an employer that’s empathetic. This figure has risen consistently over the years of them conducting this research. On the other hand, 82% of employees said that they’re more likely to leave their current job for a more empathetic organisation.
What does it mean to be an empathetic organisation? It’s one that takes a genuine interest in their employees; one where people feel heard and understood. And this is where it all gets a bit obvious — when an employee feels valued they’re happier, a happy employee is more productive, creative and engaged and thus, more likely to perform well and stay at their job. A happy and empathetic employee is better equipped to deal with customers, to understand their needs and wants and improve their experience accordingly.
Increased productivity, greater creativity, improved customer relationships, and employee retention help achieve important business objectives like lower turnover rates and better profits.
How to create a more empathetic working environment
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution but it starts with engaging with your employees and colleagues. The hospital I mentioned earlier? Well, they started practising empathy by having short staff meetings in the morning to hear the “promise” of the day, an ideal or principle they apply to that workday which encourages positive relationships between employees.
Ultimately, listening is the first and crucial step in understanding other people’s point of view. Feedback is also extremely valuable. We all need to be able to give considered feedback and but more importantly, be able to take it in — let’s encourage each other to be better.
Role-playing exercises are also known for fostering empathy. Generally, power widens the empathy gap. Being in a more powerful position has a tendency to lower one’s empathetic abilities, whereas people in lower positions are more attentive and better at reading social cues. By switching roles, you improve your ability to see things from other people’s perspectives.
Red & Yellow have introduced a new initiative in line with one of our values, Excitedly Accountable. People from different teams and departments have been put together in groups of 3, and once a month they meet up with a complimentary coffee to chat about goals and objectives, both professional and personal. It’s a great method of connecting with your colleagues and practising empathy in small, practical ways.
Do not underestimate the power of empathy; you risk falling behind and your business and its people are likely to suffer. Rather, let empathy turn your organisation into a happier, more productive, accessible and successful place.
P.S We’ve identified 10 Uniquely Human Skills that are critical for future career success — as the world becomes more competitive and dominated by technology, these are the skills that will give us an edge. They’re integrated into all of our courses and programmes. Aside from empathy, they are creative thinking, leadership, mindfulness, critical thinking, social intelligence, adaptability, persuasion, negotiation and conflict resolution.
About the author: Molly is the Communications Champion at Red & Yellow and deals with all of our social media channels and content creation. In her spare time, she likes to cook, bake, read, write and curate the perfect playlists for particular situations.