Company Culture

How to cultivate empathy at work—and why it matters

Empathy. We’ve all heard the word. But how many of us really know what it means? Or actively practice it? Especially when it comes to empathy at work?

It’s not about walking a mile in someone’s shoes. It’s not about offering them a shoulder to cry on.

The dictionary defines it as: “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

Walking a mile in someone’s shoes or offering them a shoulder to cry on doesn’t necessarily mean you understand what they’re going through or share their feelings. Everyone reacts differently to the same situations.

How I’d react to an incident at work is different from how a Workrowd colleague would react, or how a stranger would respond. Despite all of us being in the same situation.

So if that’s not showing empathy, what is?

The dictionary said it best: “understanding.”

That’s the key, and that’s where most people go wrong.

Offering someone a shoulder is a sign of compassion or sympathy, but not necessarily empathy.

To feel empathy, you have to truly understand the other person’s emotions even if you wouldn’t respond to a situation in the same way.

Why does empathy at work matter?

Consulting firm EY found in 2021 that 90% of employees believe empathetic leaders increase job satisfaction. What’s more, 79% believe they lower employee turnover. Those are some pretty significant numbers.

For companies struggling to retain employees, cultivating empathy at work could make a huge difference.

Greater empathy can also lead to more innovation. In fact, 61% of employees at empathetic organizations felt they could innovate.

Just 13% felt they could at apathetic organizations.

In our ever-changing, fast-moving times, the more innovation going on in your business, the more likely you are to differentiate yourself from competitors to both customers and employees. And the more money you’re likely to make as a result.

But first, that requires a psychologically safe workplace.

And how do you build that?


4 ways to build empathy at work

How can you create more empathy at work? Let’s take a look:

Define what empathy means in your business

As I mentioned in the introduction, a lot of people have heard of empathy, but very few people understand what it really is.

There’s a difference between witnessing racism and really feeling its impacts in the short- and long-term.

Same as there’s a difference between seeing someone in a wheelchair and understanding the challenges that come from living in a world that isn’t disability friendly.

So, what does empathy at work look like at your organization? How will you show empathy to your employees?

Will it be through active listening?

Sending feedback surveys and acting based on the results?

Training managers and employees on what empathy at work looks like and how to use it?

Or something else?

Make your CEO human

The larger a company is, the more a CEO can feel like a mythical creature who only comes out at night.

Employees further down the ladder may have only heard their name and seen their headshot on LinkedIn. They may never have had a conversation with them.

When CEOs open up to employees and show a human side, it creates a connection that can help motivate team members, foster understanding, and set an example. Managers and employees alike can then follow this display of empathy at work.

Get managers to set an example

If a manager sets an awkward work environment, employees won’t feel comfortable in their roles. They’re also likely to subconsciously mimic this to protect themselves.

If a manager creates a welcoming work environment, everyone will feel involved and want to be a part of that team. New team members will be more likely to stay because they’ll feel like they belong.

Managers can set an example by how they talk to their team members and even how they greet them in the mornings. Everything from their body language to their tone of voice can set the atmosphere for the day.

If a manager is having a bad day, they should either tell their employees that they’re feeling off, or find a way to not let their mood rub off. Otherwise, it can ruin the productivity of everyone on their team.

Open the lines of communication

Open communication is important in any relationship. But how can employees share their feedback in your workplace?

Who can they go to if they have issues with a colleague? Or their boss?

There should be formal processes in place, as well as informal ways to discuss less serious matters.

Sending regular surveys to see how your employees really feel is another way to find out what they think. It allows you to stay informed about what’s happening within your business and analyze the results.

Seeking to understand what employees are going through in this way can really help you build empathy at work.


Fostering empathy at work is a key trait of any successful organization. It improves creativity, productivity, and innovation—all components that have never been more important for businesses.

Listening to what employees have to say, and setting examples, helps employees understand your workplace culture. This is especially true if instigating the new, more empathetic attitude meets some resistance.

Over time, you’ll start to see the benefits of empathy at work and your employees will repay you with their hard work and loyalty.

Ready to up your game when it comes to empathy at work? Giving employees a one-stop shop for building real connections is a great place to start.

Workrowd enables you to do just that, alongside automated surveys and real-time analytics. Curious to learn more? Drop by our site, or reach out directly to today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *