Does Empathy Belong in the Workplace?

Empathy in the workplace

When you think about your current or ideal career, work environment, employees, co-workers, managers, etc., what are the first few words that come to mind? Some of us may think of words such as professional, integrity, driven, and leadership. For others, we may think of words such as sales, customer service, healthy environment, communication, and more. But how many of us think of words such as empathy? Probably not many of us. It leaves us to wonder, does empathy belong in the workplace?


When we think of terms like empathy, many of us relate those words to family members, friends, or significant others. Some tend not to associate these words with their work environment, co-workers, employees, employers, managers, etc. But no matter where we are, empathy allows us to thrive, and it is essential in a work environment. But unfortunately, this attribute is not always found in the workplace for many. 

Results of a Work Environment that Lacks Empathy

Some of you may remember when Covid first hit, many employers experienced the “Great Resignation.” More U.S. employees than ever were opting out of their current jobs in search of new ones. Upon research, Ernst & Young found that 54% of employees resigned from their previous position because their bosses lacked empathy for their struggles at work, and 49% left because employers were unsympathetic to their personal lives. The Pew Research Center found similar conclusions in their study as well. Fifty-seven percent of workers quit their jobs in 2021 because they felt disrespected, and 45% left because of the lack of flexible hours. Nearly half of these workers felt their boss was not empathetic to their needs for flexible hours so they could tend to their children.


Empathy is essential to have, especially when you are leading a team. Your team depends on you to hear their voice and have a certain level of understanding to address their needs. If you are a leader who struggles with empathy, do not worry. Here are three tips to become an empathetic leader.

1. Rethink Empathy

The first step you can take to help you become a more empathetic leader is to rethink what it means to be empathetic. Many believe being empathetic means to “Do unto others as you would have done to you,” but the problem with this saying is you are not the “others.” What you would like done to you or for you is not the same as what others may want done to them and for them. 


Empathy is more than just treating people as you wish to be treated. It means positioning yourself as if you are in their shoes to understand their experience deeply. It also means releasing any privileges, biases, etc., you may have. Every person is unique and shares different life experiences, even if those experiences are shared with others. For example, several employees on the same team with the same job title and workload share the same experience, but they may experience it differently. One employee may have a sick child at home and is working to complete tasks having only three hours of sleep. Another employee may be facing some mental health issues while the other is thriving and happy, completing work in a breeze.


Rethinking what it means to be empathetic will not only help you induce your leadership skills but also give you space to think empathetically on an individual basis while giving your employees a voice as an individual.

empathy in the workplace

2. Create an Environment to Practice Empathy

Creating a space for you to practice being empathetic is essential. When you encounter situations requiring empathy, take advantage of the opportunity to sharpen your skills. Listen to your employees by forming a safe environment for them to voice personal and work-related issues they may be facing. Take in all the information they give you and think of yourself if you were in their position. How would you feel? Do not be afraid to ask your employee what they need. Respond with compassion.

3. Consider the Importance of Empathy

Empathy is essential to our everyday functions and needs as humans. As mentioned, we are all unique, sharing similar experiences but differently. Think about how crucial it is to be heard and understood in your household, with your spouse, at a restaurant, as a customer, etc. How much more is it essential to have empathy shared among people you spend eight-plus hours a day with at work? 

Upon research, Catalyst surveyed nearly 900 US employees working across industries to understand empathic leadership’s effects on their work experiences. They concluded that empathy is an essential driver of employee outcomes such as innovation, engagement, and inclusion—especially in times of crisis. It is clear to see empathy is needed and is an important tool to invest in to reach your potential as a leader. And we encourage you to apply this critical skill to your work environment.

More Help?

Empathy is extremely essential in the workplace and should always be present. It is what drives employees, and it is what helps them to feel valued. If you need more help inducing your skills, check us out next week. We are putting together a list of training materials you can consider to learn more about becoming an empathetic leader. 


And as always, we are here for you!

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empathy in the workplace

empathy in the workplace

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