How to Be More Empathetic at Work

A 2018 State of Workplace Empathy Study by Businessolver found that 96 percent of employees surveyed believed it was important for their employers to demonstrate empathy. However, 92 percent thought empathy remains undervalued. This is unfortunate because showing empathy at work helps employees and co-workers feel valued and more motivated at work and therefore impacts success! But it can be difficult with your own problems and tasks at work to, on top of that, keep up with everyone else! We understand that, however… we need you to start working on it because it’s a critical skill for your professional development and leadership strengths.

Here’s the deal: Empathy is an important interpersonal skill, personally and professionally! It is the ability to understand and share someone else’s feelings, put yourself in their shoes so to speak. This is important during especially difficult times, such as the loss of a family member, an illness, or important life events such as getting married or having a child. It’s easy to sympathize or be happy alongside a co-worker or employee in these moments, especially if you have experienced something similar in your own life. But how can you regularly be more empathetic at work, during tough times as well? 

Encourage open communication. Whether you are a manager or an employee who is looking to build better interpersonal skills, work at creating an atmosphere of open communication with your co-workers or employees. This will make it easier for others to feel like they can approach you if they are having difficulty at work, and give you an opportunity to help them, as a leader would. For example:

  • A co-worker may be being bullied or harassed 
  • An employee is looking for a mentor. 
  • An employee wants to sharpen a skill set to advance their career. 

Think about how you can help. At first glance it may seem like the best thing to do in the difficult situations listed above is to offer a few words of sympathy or encouragement and move on. However, empathy moves people to action. When you understand how someone is feeling and you have the power to do something, that feeling will move you to help your co-worker or employee. Ask yourself how you would feel in that situation. What would you like someone else to do for you? Now consider if there is something you can do for this person and if it could help them. 

For example, your co-worker may need help standing up to the bully or someone to go with him to HR to file a report. Could you offer your support in that way? If your employee is looking for a mentor, could you adjust your schedule to be that mentor? Or could you help her find a mentor? Could you do some research to provide a list of classes or resources for your employee who wants to advance their career

This doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Think about one co-worker or employee who needs a little extra support this week. Now consider how you could help him or her. If they accept your support, continue to provide it as needed. Then identify another co-worker or employee and repeat. This will help you become more empathetic in your work, making you a more effective professional and, even more so, a better leader.