9th June marks Empathy Day. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, empathy is: “the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.” Put simply, it’s a way to understand and feel another person’s emotions.
Empathy in the workplace is particularly important. It helps us to connect with our colleagues and help them through the day-to-day. As a manager, empathising with your team is key to getting the best results from your people. We all like to feel listened to and understood, after all.
A compassionate workplace is good for business, too. For example, 77% of workers would be more likely to work more hours in an empathic workplace, with many employees leaving their current job for a more compassionate environment.
To mark this year’s Empathy Day, here are our top tips on improving empathy within the workplace.
This one sounds simple, but it can often take practice to listen 100% to another person’s side of the conversation. Your mind might be on another work task, or on what you’re going to make for lunch. Try to put your own tasks, problems and thoughts aside and focus totally on what the other person is saying. Put yourself in their position and imagine how you would feel.
If your team feels they can talk openly, this will lead to a more positive workplace culture too.
2. Train your brain
You can’t learn to empathise with others overnight, but you can try to train your brain to think empathetically. Reading books or travelling to a new place is a great way to train your brain to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. You can also read articles online and practice mindfulness yourself to ensure you’re in the best possible place personally to open your heart and mind to others.
3. Really work with your team
This means shadowing the people you work with, understanding their workload and listening to their frustrations. If you work with teams across other offices, spend a day in the different location so you are able to empathise with their individual challenges too.
4. Learn to recognise bias
Unconscious bias means we react without thinking. Unfortunately, bias is difficult to unlearn, but you can be aware of your own bias and ensure this doesn’t impact your decision making or your ability to empathise. You should never ignore or dismiss how someone is feeling simply because you view them a certain way or have a preconceived opinion of how they think or may behave.
5. Don’t take advantage of empathy
Often the more empathetic coworkers end up being taken advantage of, as they are viewed as helpful and understanding. This can lead to burn-out. Being compassionate should be rewarded with returned empathy, not additional tasks and unwanted responsibilities.
6. Don’t assume the worst
An employee may be struggling with a particular task, policy or workplace rule. They might be having “an off day” or even a bad week. Don’t make assumptions that they’re not putting in enough effort, or they’re not equipped to do their job. Perhaps that member of staff is struggling with circumstances outside of work. Be patient, talk openly to your colleagues and try to explore the issue empathetically.
7. Take team building seriously
A good relationship with coworkers is one of the main aspects to enjoying a job. Spending time to really get to know colleagues is key. Whether that’s having a chat while the kettle boils, or embracing team-building days as a chance to bond, prioritising strengthening those workplace relationships is a good way to improve empathy in the workplace.
8. Little actions make a big difference
Smiling at your colleagues, offering to make a cup of tea for someone in a different department, remembering people’s names even if you don’t work with them often… small demonstrations of empathy and compassion go a long way. Give people your full attention and make a mental note of things they say, so you can form meaningful conversations with them in the future. You’ll develop a reputation for being caring and trustworthy if you take an interest in other people’s lives and feelings.
9. Try not to ‘fix’ people
Your colleagues may open up to you, but it’s not always your responsibility to find a solution (unless it’s work-related and they’ve specifically turned to you for guidance). Often a listening ear and an understanding conversation is enough. In fact, constantly trying to fix a problem can leave the other person feeling unheard. Remember, another person’s issue isn’t your issue.
10. Open up
You can’t expect coworkers to show vulnerability if you don’t open up yourself. Show your human side and share your own worries, stories and emotions with your team. People will feel empathy towards you, and will therefore be more likely to talk themselves when the time comes.
Do you need a helping hand to improve workplace empathy? We Are Wellbeing delivers a range of seminars and training sessions on key wellbeing topics designed to improve your workplace culture. For more information, get in touch with the team.