#Nextchat: Empathy in the Workplace



We’ve all heard the expression “Never judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” It’s powerful. It’s thought-provoking. 

Unfortunately, there’s a bit of confusion in our workplaces today as to who needs to be wearing the shoes, or if there needs to be any “shoe trading” at all.

A report examining empathy in the workplace by Businessolver revealed that while “60% of CEOs view their organization as empathetic, only one in four employees does.”

Empathy is the ability to understand the thoughts, views and emotions of another … to understand what it’s like to be in that person’s situation.

Empathetic people are especially good listeners. They can focus on an individual without getting distracted. They seek to understand the problems and challenges others face because they value understanding themselves.  

Empathy is a skill that many successful business leaders possess. It allows leaders to appreciate each member of their team and unite their life experiences, perspectives and talents to achieve a common goal. It helps to uncover reasons for poor performance and reconfigure an individual’s path to recovery.

An empathetic culture is a critical component of an organization’s growth and sustained success because it connects employees, unites teams, builds higher levels of morale and encourages loyalty. Empathetic cultures are more passionate about their work. When employees know that their leaders and teammates care, they bring their “A game” and are naturally more productive. 

Challenges in a Me-Focused Culture

In a world of me-focused self-promotion and self-branding, creating a culture of empathy in today’s workplace can be a huge challenge for employers. Companies can aim to put profits before people, but it’s not always easy for employees and managers alike to understand the thoughts and feelings of others, or to listen without distraction when our attention spans are so severely stunted by hyper doses of mixed-media messaging and workplace technology.  

So how can senior leaders and HR impart more empathy to their workforce? Can empathy be taught, and how can you augment your workforce with employees who possess more of these types of soft skills?

Testing Your Empathy Skills

The BBC article Can You Teach People to Have Empathy? cites a test by neuropsychologist Simon Baron-Cohen called Reading the Mind in the Eyes which helps to assess empathetic abilities. This is a good start.

The SHRM Online article HR’s Hard Challenge—When Employees Lack Soft Skills by Mark Feffer indicates that an “increasing emphasis on soft skills will spur a dramatic change in HR. Human Resources will become Human Development. To a degree, that means organizations should be screening for development potential." "You can’t change the way someone is at their core," says Dwight Crain, manager of client operations and marketing for Profiles International, “but you can teach them to manage their approach.”

How empathetic are you? How would you rate your teammates, your managers and your organization?

Please join @shrmnextchat on October 19 at 3pm ET for #Nextchat. Our special guest this week is a familiar voice to #Nextchat who others would say models what empathetic leadership can be: Steve Browne, SHRM-SCP (@sbrowneHR). We’ll chat about how organizations, leaders and teams can learn and practice more empathy in the workplace—every day.


Q1. 60% of CEOs view their organization as empathetic, while only one in four employees does. Who do you agree with and why?

Q2. Why is there a disconnect between CEOs’ and employees' perceptions on the level of empathy in workplaces today?   

Q3. What is an empathetic leadership style? What are the characteristics of an empathetic leader?

Q4. How do you hire for empathy and similar soft skills?  What interview questions or personality assessments do you use?

Q5. How do you teach empathy and similar soft skills at your organization? What training or activities do you recommend?

Q6. Why is it critical that CEOs and senior management understand the power of empathy and regularly practice it?

Q7. What are examples of how HR can be more empathetic with rules and policies and how they’re applied to employees? 

Q8. What are some simple daily practices or habits that can help one achieve more empathy?     

If you missed this excellent chat on 10/19/16, you can read all the tweets here





The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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