June 13, 2017
by Carla Johnson
I’ve written many times before that no company can deliver remarkable customer experiences without an eye to employees and their level of engagement. Marketing and sales often make promises and write emotional checks on which employees never deliver. It’s not that they can’t deliver, but rather, they don’t want to because of how they’re treated every day when they walk through the door.
Think about this, for a second.
What’s it like to get stuck in a conversation with an incredible bore who drones on and on, and doesn’t give a squat about what matters to you?
Your mind goes to a million more interesting things and you couldn’t recall the conversation if you had to. Every time you see that person, you check out and go through the motions. That person doesn’t care about you and what matters in your world. They’re self-absorbed and lack empathy.
That’s exactly what employees feel when company leadership and managers treat them the same way. If you want employees to care about you as a leader and the success of the company, you first have to show you have empathy for them as a person.
The 2017 Businessolver Workplace Empathy Monitor points out a crucial weakness in corporations today – the empathy gap. The empathy gap is the delta between what employees and business leaders feel about empathy, why it’s important and how to effectively show it.
What empathy is (and isn’t)
Empathy is the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes. But that’s a lot easier said than done in the hectic day-to-day, get-it-done-yesterday demands of our work. Especially when it comes to a multi-generational employee population that wants different things from their work experience.
It’s more than freebies (donuts and foosball tables) and corporate social responsibility. Empathy is about giving people the flexibility to have more control over where, when and how they work. In this year’s survey, 95% of employees said that flexible work hours and location are some of the best ways to show empathy. Unfortunately, only 38% of employees say their company offers flexible work hours or location.
While corporate social responsibility programs are great and help employees take pride in the companies for which they work, it’s important to have empathy at ‘home’ before a brand goes out to make the world a better place. Treating employees well and caring for their mental and physical health shows employer empathy.
Companies that believe in the power of empathy use four practices as the cornerstone of their empathy efforts:
- Hiring: Granted, empathy is something that people can learn. But if organizations tile hiring practices toward people who are naturally empathetic, then these traits grow organically and tend to be more ingrained in the culture.
- Training: Behavior that’s reinforced becomes a priority. Getting leaders and managers to become empathetic means continually training them on how to do just that. Develop opportunities for people to share how they’ve added greater empathy in how they approach their work so they can learn from each other. Not everything requires trial and error, especially when it comes to how people feel about working for your company.
- Personalizing: As workforce diversity grows, so does our need for personalization. Even when it comes down to expressing empathy. Walking in the shoes of employees doesn’t mean that everyone feels the same or they prefer similar shoes. Generic empathy isn’t empathy. It’s condescension and it only makes things worse.
- Measuring: You know the saying, “what matters gets measured”? To get empathy to matter within a company, begin to measure it. Seventy-nine percent of people who responded said empathy should be measured in performance discussions. In addition, look for opportunities to reward people who show empathy toward others, and leaders who practice what they preach.
Let’s face it, companies aren’t going to begin oozing empathy overnight. It takes time to change culture. But with the tremendous hit that companies take to their bottom because of poor customer experience, it’s time to re-evaluate not only how we treat our customers, but how we treat the people who serve our customers.
Download the full report