Do Leaders Have an Empathy Problem?
Disconnected workplaces lead to higher employee turnover
A boss at a newspaper where I once worked had a routine response whenever a particular freelancer was displeased about something: “He wants to be loved.” That was a deliberate overstatement, but in service of a fair point: Employees may not speak out to our bosses because they need to be loved, but they do want to be heard and understood on a level that runs deeper than mere productivity. If they don’t feel they’re heard, they’ll move on. As the old saw has it, people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.
There’s data to support that idea. According to Businesssolver’s 2018 “State of Workplace Empathy” report, a workplace’s capacity for empathy—defined as “the ability to understand and experience the feelings of another”—plays a critical role in an employee’s engagement with their work. Ninety-six percent of respondents (1,000 employees, plus smaller groups of CEOs and HR professionals) say empathy is important; 90 percent say they’re more likely to stay with an employer that demonstrates empathy; and 80 percent say they’re willing to work longer hours for such an employer.
Of course, polling people about whether they like being empathized with is a little like polling them about whether they like rainbows, or breathing. Positive feedback is such an essential part of our workplace life that nobody is going to say they stand against it. But the study reveals a few points that complicate leaders’ relationship with empathy, its impact, and our misunderstandings about it.
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