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4 reasons empathy in the workplace makes sense for business

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July 2, 2021

6 minutes to read

Opinions expressed by Contractor the contributors are theirs.


Empathy has started to be one of those words that have circulated a lot more since the start of the pandemic, which is a good thing it’s now part of the conversation. However, like any other buzzword, with no action to back it up, it makes no sense. It must be deeply rooted in the DNA of the company. It should permeate the daily behavior of the leaders and employees of the organization.

And for mass adoption by the business, there has to be a very strong connection to the bottom line.

The reality is that some industries, such as financial or professional services, are not traditionally associated with empathy. But in these industries, large organizations must lead the way. Building a culture of empathy in a large organization must start from the top. The leaders must live these values, adopt them and uproot any behavior which is in contradiction with these values.

I spoke to Steve Payne, vice president of the Americas at EY Consulting. To be frank, I was skeptical that a Big Four company would really accept empathy. However, Steve believes there are compelling reasons to do so.

EY conducted a global survey of 16,000 employees – 54% would consider leaving their jobs after the Covid-19 pandemic if they don’t have some flexibility in where and when they work. The new generation of employees want different things from work, and the world of work is changing. The pandemic has taught us that flexibility is possible. There is no compelling reason not to give people more of what they want, so employers can get more of what they want (higher productivity and performance).

Here are some compelling reasons to make empathy part of your business DNA.

Related: Why Empathy Is One Of The Most Overlooked Skills In Business

Building an attractive workplace

The employee churn and burn rate in certain industries, such as professional services, has historically been high. Reducing this represents a huge cost saving for the company. It is in an employer’s interest that good people stay longer. Making them feel valued and appreciated will help. Considerable work is required to anchor this culture, but in the long run it becomes a distinct competitive advantage.

Employees who feel valued stay with a company longer and tend to put more energy into their work because they are more engaged and motivated.

Cost savings are realized by not paying the costs of recruiting, as well as training and development, for new people. In addition, more productive and happier employees produce better jobs, which also generates income. Happier employees serve customers better, resulting in a positive feedback loop, which means customers are likely to stay with the company longer.

By making your workplace attractive to the best employees, you are actually serving all stakeholders better.

Related: How Businesses Lead With Empathy

You can tap into a larger pool of talented people

Some industries are not from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. However, punitive regimes (constant travel, 90-hour weeks) will deter some otherwise suitable employees from pursuing a certain career path. Empathy at work provides the compromise that allows you to tap into a larger pool of people who may not have chosen this career path because it has forced them to live a certain lifestyle.

For example, it was not unusual, before the pandemic, for a traveling consultant to be on the road all week, at customer sites. As Steve Payne said in our conversation, you miss so much at home during this time. So what if employers could provide employees with a full family experience? What he never had. What if the total sacrifice of employees is not necessary to achieve the financial goals of the company?

An evolved leader needs to know that expecting people to do as they have done and to make the sacrifices they have made in their careers will ultimately be doomed for the new generation of workers. How do you meet the needs of the individual within a large organization, without sacrificing delivery to the customer?

The answer is balance. Take a look at each role and determine how long someone doing that job needs to be on site or in the office. For many organizations, this looks like a hybrid arrangement. And under this arrangement, you achieve two goals: 1. Sustainability (reducing the carbon footprint of travel, which allows the planet to heal) and 2. Additional flexibility for employees when and how. which they work from home.

Related: Stop Talking About Empathy And Start Acting On It

Empathy needs clarity and clear expectations

The perception of empathy as “being kind” is not entirely correct. Empathy, in a work context, is about alignment between employer and employee. And that means clear and transparent communication about what is needed and expected from both sides.

By managing expectations on both sides, then there are no surprises. An employee has the flexibility to decide whether a job is for them or not because they understand what is expected of them in that role. We are moving more towards an employee evaluation model focused on results / performance, rather than number of hours worked / time spent in attendance. As long as the work is done to a high standard and on time; then incorporating some flexibility into the process is fine.

However, not having these parameters in place to begin with can lead to frustration on both sides. Empathy works best when communication is clear and honest.

Empathy can help create a strong work culture

Often, when a company strongly incorporates a positive culture (eg, hardworking, ethical, fair and empathetic), this leads to self-selection. When people choose to leave, it may be due to a value misalignment. I call it short term pain for long term gain.

Value statements should be clear to everyone within an organization and should guide day-to-day behaviors and the level of empathy expected of all stakeholders. Empathy allows us to better understand and respond to the needs of our employees and customers (if we wish).

Hewlett Packard did it very well. They have built an undeniably (financially) successful business, with a strong emphasis on “collectivism”, morality, clear expectations and integrity. Balanced empathy is one of them.

All employees must align with the values ​​of the company and understand that there are consequences of not doing so. A balanced application of a corporate culture leads to employee confidence that the system is working, shows zero tolerance for bad behavior, and promotes open communication. If good values ​​come before the economy, in the long run it can lead to better results for the bottom line.


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