The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and total well-being of their employees first. Read about the 2019 winners of the award at this link and watch a video from the winners here.
Registration for the 2020 Employee Recommended Workplace Award is now open. Take the pulse of your staff and register at this link.
How important is empathy as an attribute for effective leadership?
To answer this question, let’s be clear on empathy in the context of leadership. The global Center for Creative Leadership suggests that it’s a leader’s ability to relate to employees’ thoughts, emotions and experiences. The Center explains that nearly 50 per cent of managers in today’s management pool are ineffective. One reason is a skills gap related to empathy.
Empathy is an important micro skill for leaders. It enables them to be open and to understand what their employees are thinking. Empathetic leaders create the conditions for employees to share their thoughts, which can be helpful for their mental health. How a leader behaves toward their employees can have a positive or negative impact on their overall mental health. The employee-manager relationship is one of the most important for every employee; it directly impacts their experience in the workplace and their productivity.
Employees who don’t feel safe or don’t believe their manager cares about them can build up anxiety and worry about how their manager may react if they make a mistake or don’t agree with them. And that can affect the quality of their work.
Having empathy for an employee has nothing to do with a leader’s ability to be firm, fair and consistent. It’s not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength, and evidence that an employee’s well-being matters.
Organizations don’t post notices saying that people don’t matter. Instead, codes of conduct indicate that the way managers relate to their employees defines how they believe their managers care about them on a personal and professional level.
An empathetic leader understands what their employees want at an individual level. They accept that their employees come with a wide variety of differences and expectations. In a society evolving with respect to diversity and inclusion, empathy becomes a more critical micro skill for leaders.
People naturally have low or high levels of empathy for others. Some people are naturally empathetic. However, it is something that can be taught, and enhanced through practice. A leader committed to developing their empathy will know they’re becoming more empathetic when they can stop focusing on what they think, slow down, and instead put themselves in their employees’ shoes. They stop focusing on being right and replace it by being open to learning what an employee is thinking before making a decision.
It’s possible to have too much empathy. If not monitored, a leader may become emotionally overwhelmed trying to meet every employee’s wants. Leaders must make decisions, and even with the best intentions some employees may not be happy.
Each leader will ultimately determine how much effort they’ll put forth with respect to being empathetic. The Wall Street Journal reports that 20 per cent of organizations are now sending managers to empathy training. This suggests that there’s a growing interest in the importance of empathy by leaders to support employees’ experience.
Leaders who focus on developing empathy increase their opportunity to have employees demonstrate increased loyalty. It helps develop teams that are tolerant of peers, which increases co-operation, decreases stress levels, and positively impacts employees’ creativity and problem solving.
Tips for enhancing leaders’ empathy:
Be patient – Understand that whenever an employee has a difference between what they want and what they have they may become frustrated, short-tempered or emotional. Allow employees time to get their thoughts out; don’t feel an immediate need to control a situation. Be open, seek to understand, and don’t interrupt them. Practice patience.
Listen – Open your mind and focus on what employees are saying, not on what you’re thinking, or your response. Seek to understand their facts and rationale before forming a conclusion. Slow down and learn why something is important to them before you agree or disagree.
Be mindful of your body language – Be aware that it’s not only your words that employees pay attention to; it’s also your facial expressions and body language. Have your body language align with your words and intentions. Checking your phone when someone is talking to you shows that you’re not really interested or listening to them.
Encourage – Encourage quiet and introverted employees to share their thinking on work-related matters in ways that are non-threatening and that work for them, such as one-on-one meetings. Encourage all employees to share their thinking with you on regularly.
Learn – Learn what’s important to employees by asking questions about their work, projects, culture and what defines their success.
Bill Howatt is the chief of research for work force productivity at the Conference Board of Canada, and a co-creator of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award.
You can find other stories like these at tgam.ca/workplaceaward.