Beverley Nicholas, Regional Talent Director, at PageGroup explains why empathy in the workplace is key to improving engagement

The average career length is 50 years and during this time only 1 in 10 people are actively engaged. This, to me, illustrates that within the current landscape there is a need for companies to actively pursue strategies to better engage their employees. Embedding empathy in working culture is one way of achieving actively-engaged workers but it also has the added benefit of increasing productivity and business growth.  This was revealed by the Harvard Business Review, which highlighted the top ten most empathetic companies outperformed the bottom ten by at least 50% in productivity, earnings and growth.

We recently hosted a breakfast seminar and welcomed Belinda Palmar OBE, who shared her unique expertise with an audience of HR professionals. Belinda is also a TEDx speaker, World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and founder of The Empathy Business.

I was most intrigued by the notion that a good culture of empathy directly correlates with good business growth and productivity. To understand how this is possible, I discovered it is important to be able to differentiate between empathy and sympathy in the workplace. Empathy, unlike sympathy, requires action and has a more meaningful impact on individuals

How to embed empathy in working culture

A company is its people, which means the best way to influence company culture is through the people. This is best achieved through the critical key relationship between an individual and their line manager.

For some managers and leaders empathy is innate and a key part of the way they lead and develop their people.  Others may require some coaching and support from HR in order to develop empathy and, importantly, to demonstrate empathy authentically.

Practical tips for practicing empathy within your business

  1. Encourage active listening. It’s important to listen to and fully process not just what someone is saying but how they are saying it; what language and metaphors are they using, what tone and emphasis? If you combine active listening with reading body language you will have a deeper understanding of what an individual is saying and in turn they will feel valued and heard.
  2. Encourage honesty and transparency. Dishonesty and ambiguity are signs of an unempathetic environment. Consider monitoring the number of bcc emails shared in the workplace as this will be an indicator of how honest and open you are as a company.
  3. Give context behind KPIs. Help your employee understand how their KPIs and work activities contribute to achieving both their personal goals and ambitions and those of the business. . This will help them recognise why their role is important in the company and understand their contribution is valued

The most important tip is to put people over processes and this becomes increasingly challenging as technology continues to play such a significant role in our day-to-day lives. If this is at the forefront of your decision-making as a company, you will begin to embed empathy in small but meaningful ways.

HR is instrumental in building an empathetic culture, as HR professionals are in a unique position to recognise an empathy deficit. They can also provide the necessary support to nurture an empathetic environment and develop those who find empathy more challenging

My biggest take away from the event was understanding the far-reaching impact of empathy in the workplace. By implementing small but meaningful changes, you will not only directly affect the wellbeing and engagement of workers but you can also positively influence business growth and productivity.