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The ABCs of Empathy in the Workplace: A 4-Step Practical Guide

Shivangi Gautam

Last Updated: 3 March 2023

In this article:

A couple of years back if we told businesses that empathy in workplaces guarantees great business returns, it might be laughed off. But today, empathetic leaders - by the virtue of understanding others and being aware of their own feelings and thoughts - are setting new, desirable examples of leadership. Coincidentally, these leaders are also producing positive performance results across teams, departments and organizations. 

We’re amazed by this white paper published by the Centre for Creative Leadership that analyzed data from 6,731 managers from 38 countries. Key findings of the study are:

  • Empathy is positively related to job performance.
  • Empathy is more important to job performance in some company cultures (high power-distance) than others (low power-distance)

Since the great resignation tsunami is not too far behind us, in future attrition will always be the scary ghost in the attic. Well, talk about Halloween scares. So, if you’re planning to hire and retain Gen-Z workers, you might wanna give more importance to the not-so-soft-skill that empathy is.

Their performance and engagement so directly falls in the same line as their leader’s ability to be empathic, that 90% of Gen Z employees are more likely to stay with an empathetic employer, while “only one-in-four employees believe empathy in their organisations is sufficient.”

An empathic leader can inspire cohesiveness in the team, boost morale and inspire loyalty. As a CEO, it’s the one last tool you need in your suite of leadership qualities, therefore: WE NEED CHIEF EMPATHY OFFICERS!

Then why do leaders fail to demonstrate empathy proactively? Because empathy takes work. Furthermore, having and demonstrating empathy are two different things. 

While we navigate the ever changing landscape of employee experience, here are four key ways you can establish psychologically safety in your management:

4 key ways to establish psychological safety in enterprises

1. Communicate everything...

….Or over-communicate if you need to. More information from executives demonstrates concern and provides more opportunities for leaders to be known. So as a start, over communicate company updates. And yes, keep up with those townhalls. They really help - even the virtual ones. Would you believe that 60% of American employees don’t know their company’s strategies? 

Similarly, Pre-COVID, 44% – almost half – of the executives suggested communication between them and the staff was “excellent.” Well, not even a quarter of the staff felt the same.

🧡 Fun fact: Several thousand years ago, the greeks invented the town hall (which they called an assembly as a way to give citizens a voice and a role in government.

The intention is to create an open space for employees to engage in conversations. So, make sure it’s not a dull presentation that your employees may yawn their way through. 

All your employees may not find a public space the perfect platform to speak up, but it’s important for them to know that the door is open. Encouraging few people to speak can spark a beautiful chain of vulnerability via group psychology.

2. Be as flexible as possible

Hey! We appreciate that as CEOs and people leaders, some of you are going out on a limb to adjust with challenges that the pandemic brought. Whether it was adjusting to a hybrid working model, or putting in that extra buck on technology to provide the best resources, or even accommodating with so many different personality types. Not all leaders and professionals could make room for that, but you did. So give yourself a pat on the back, but remind yourself that the journey is far from over. 

In a global survey conducted by EY of 16,000 employees, this is what turned up - 54% would consider leaving their job post-Covid-19 pandemic if they are not afforded some form of flexibility in where and when they work. Is there any reason to not give employees more of what they want, to expect more of what we want? We think not! We believe that in a flexible workplace, the needs of both employee and employer are met.

Need some inspiration? Here is a future of flexible working as imagined and implemented by six top companies.

3. Encourage vulnerability 

Vulnerable leaders pave the way for their people to openly share their concerns so a fitting solution may be achieved. Vulnerability says that ‘Hey, we all have struggles, but sharing them is not a sign of weakness’. It fosters trust in the organization. As a Chief Empathy Officer, lead by example. 

Since as long as Amber by inFeedo has existed, founder Tanmaya Jain has actively shared his personal and professional struggles not just with the employees but with the entire world. Here’s a short video of inFeedo founder, Tanmaya Jain talking about prioritizing mental health at a TEDx conference. 


Thanks to Tanmaya, we have an open culture of dealing with the struggles of mental health at work fairly well

Coupled with empathy and compassion, vulnerability is critical for business leaders to care for people. Of course, to become such a leader you need to look inwards first - make space for self-awareness and self-connection. Once you do that, you can look outward and foster feelings of inclusivity and belonging

For instance, while there are many instances where we loved Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, here’s one we absolutely adore:  After the 2019 attacks on a mosque in Christchurch, Ardern wore a hijab as she walked throughout the community, comforting people and hugging victims’ family members. Her decision to put on the religiously symbolic garment of those targeted sent a unifying message that all were part of the same community.

4. Express gratitude

Gratitude does not have to be inspired from a single massive act or favour. Checking in on your employees, expressing gratitude with words or token of appreciation, setting up a company-wide thanking event, or even recognizing compassionate acts in public forums are all gestures leaders can take to show that they care. Taking small steps of demonstrative gratitude consistently can go a long way in proving that you’re an appreciative leader.

With Thanksgiving Day just around the corner, it might be a great idea to spark up some thankfulness exercises, especially after the rough couple of years we’re recovering from. 

🧡 Quick tip: Consider writing a small LinkedIn message to an employee who did well in the last few months, or someone who could use words of encouragement. You'll be pleasantly surprised at the response!

Empathy as a cost saving model: 

Now that we have established that employees that feel valued tend to put more energy into their work, cultivating empathy is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ quality. Supercharge your business goals in 2023 by training your management to be more empathetic leaders. See this chain for example:

Employees feel valued --- They stick with the organization longer --- Cost saved by not paying recruitment fees, along with training and development, for new people!

Bonus: Happier employees serve customers better, leading to a positive feedback loop, meaning customers are likely to remain with the firm longer.

We can’t argue with that for sure!

Are your employees feeling valued?

Increase ROI on employee engagement with Amber before they decide to leave. Backed by years of people science and Artificial Intelligence, Amber engages with employees and helps HR build a winning culture.

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