empathic leaders celebrating with their team

How to Demonstrate Empathetic Leadership in the Workplace – 6 Examples

In our most recent blogs, we explored two important topics in connection with Mental Health Awareness Month: maintaining passion for work and knowing the signs of employee burnout. We touched on the importance of empathetic leadership in the workplace when it comes to employee engagement and overall well-being. As research shows, more and more companies understand that management skills and business acumen are not enough to lead a company. Successful managers need to create and maintain a people-focused culture where employees thrive. To quote customer service expert Shep Hyken:

“The reason an organization can deliver good or bad customer service comes down to one thing; what is happening on the inside of that organization. To sum it up in one word: culture.”

The necessity to be able to lead people across various teams and departments, countries, cultures, and backgrounds – who are often also in remote or hybrid work arrangements – is now a given. In addition, leaders need to understand the needs of employees and be aware of their feelings and thoughts. Let’s take a deeper dive into what empathetic leadership is and how to cultivate it.

What is Empathetic Leadership?

Empathetic leadership – as opposed to the more traditional top-down, autocratic, results-driven leadership style – focuses on identifying with employees and understanding their point of view. Empathetic managers take a sincere interest in their employees. They seek to understand what makes them tick and what inspires and motivates them. This approach makes it possible for leaders to connect with many different types of people – even adapt their communication style depending on who they are communicating with.

How Compassionate Leadership Increases Employee Engagement

According to a study by Catalyst, 76% of employees who experienced empathy and compassion from their leaders reported they were more engaged compared with only 32% who experienced less empathy. In addition, 86% reported they are able to successfully juggle their personal, family, and work obligations – compared with 60% of those who experienced less empathy. So, it’s clear that empathetic leadership is a key factor in increasing employee engagement. However, simply having empathy is only a first step. This empathy needs to be put into action. Sangeeta Bhatnagar, Founder of the contact center and CX talent acquisition firm SB Global reiterates this: 

“It is critical that genuine empathy for employees is utilized in areas such as creating policies, hours, compensation, and work environment.”

Ways to Demonstrate Empathetic Leadership in the Workplace

empathetic leaders encourage employee hobbies

As a leader, you may not realize that you are also a role model. You set the tone for your workplace culture. Your decisions, actions, and words have tremendous importance and can make all the difference in your employees’ ability to thrive. Being empathetic means being highly ethical, self-aware, intentional, and taking the time to listen and connect. This is critical to inclusion, engagement, well-being, and the long-term retention of your workforce. Christopher Littlefield – who specializes in employee appreciation, recognition, and workplace culture – recommends these ways to demonstrate empathy in the workplace:

1. Encourage People’s Ideas – A great way to make people feel heard and included is to invite their ideas and input. Ways to do this would be to hold casual or one-on-one meetings, conduct surveys, or run “idea contests”.

2. Acknowledge Lives Outside of Work – It’s important to not only acknowledge but encourage employees’ lives and interests outside of work. Whether it’s their family and/or pet, hobby, sport, volunteer activity, or talent, make sure to recognize and celebrate it.

3. Focus on Development & Career Growth – Be on the lookout for opportunities for development for your employees. Arrange for professional training so they can remain up to date on industry knowledge, skills, and best practices. If possible, organize company retreats so they can disconnect from their daily tasks and focus on team building and learning. They will be more engaged at work if they are given a chance to learn, connect and grow.

4. Recognize Creativity and Initiative – In addition to employee awards and other forms of recognition, make sure to praise any creative, out-of-the-box initiatives taken at any level. Creativity and a sense of meaning go hand in hand and are what make people feel passionate about their work.

5. Make Mental & Physical Health a Priority – Create a workplace that encourages healthy living by way of self-care, good nutrition, mindfulness, and exercise and that discourages workaholism, poor nutrition, and substance abuse. Conduct frequent mental and physical health check-ins. You may or may not have the solutions for their issues but listening and caring is the first step. If you can’t solve for the employee, make sure to have resources available to help them.

6. Understand the Need for Fun! – Having fun is not only an important balance to work, but it is also physiologically beneficial. Fun triggers feel-good hormones, which prevent disease and reduce mental health issues such as anxiety and burnout. There are lots of ways to have fun at work such as playing games, holding challenges, sharing funny jokes and videos, observing holidays, organizing parties, and celebrating workplace milestones. Even a few icebreakers at meetings can do a lot to soften communication and bring in a more human element.

The specific needs of your employees will of course vary according to your organization, environment, and sector, but these recommendations should go far in inspiring you to demonstrate empathy and create a culture where people thrive. Having a positive culture and a thriving workforce is a reward in itself. But research also shows that there is a direct correlation between engaged employees and the satisfaction of your customers and, ultimately, your business’s success. In other words, employee engagement drives customer satisfaction. In the words of Richard Branson

“Take care of your employees and they will take care of your customers”. 

Additional Resources:

Nurturing a Culture of Appreciation at Every Level – Chris Littlefield

The Importance of Empathy in the Workplace – The Center for Creative Leadership

Are You Losing Your Passion for Customer Service? 10 Ways to Rekindle the Spark

10 Signs of Employee Burnout and How to Prevent It

The Vital Role of Purpose and Meaning In Employee Engagement

The Key to Happy Customers? Happy Employees

How Mindfulness in The Workplace Is Changing Customer Service

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