Many employees say they are important to their employer, but there still exists a wide gap between saying and doing–particularly for managers. What flows beneath feelings of inclusion, engagement, and appreciation at work is the current of empathy. Fortunately for employers, empathy is a skill that can be taught (and not only can be, but should be). When your employees show one another empathy, the result is more job satisfaction, innovation, and growth.
What Is Empathy?
A simple way to understand empathy is by comparing it to sympathy. A sympathetic person is one who cares about another’s feelings and shows them support. An example would be somebody who has never played sports yet shows happiness when their friend wins an athletic contest. The person may have no idea what it feels like to win at sports, yet still “feels for them” because their friend is jubilant.
In contrast, empathy is when a person can closely identify with somebody else’s feelings. For instance, if a friend has a rough day at work, the empathetic person would recall how they feel in the same situation. Such a person is better positioned to “feel with them” and more effectively help their friend through conversation, advice, and action.
The challenge here is if the person has never experienced what the other person is feeling.
Why Is Empathy Important?
A supervisor or employee who is not empathetic is not necessarily a bad person; they simply have no obvious commonality with their coworker, and emotionally cannot understand their situation.
But the situation still has consequences all around. Let’s take the example of a wealthy boss who won’t give time off to a single mother with a sick child:
- The employee is frustrated that the boss won’t make exceptions even in tough circumstances
- The boss needs to think about firing an unproductive worker but knows this might be a temporary situation, and that would be a waste
- Coworkers don’t like to see one of their own suffering, and think that a good boss should be able to come up with a solution
- HR wants both the boss and all of the employees to stay engaged and productive
One could easily argue that this is a direct result of the boss’s lack of empathy, which led to his poor insight.