Empathy has been a much-discussed topic over the past year. Leaders have had to reinvent their leadership strategies quickly and take accelerated training in remote leadership skills, empathy being one of them. But is empathy as important as some people claim it is?
Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s perspective and emotions. It was considered a soft and “feminine” skill for a long time, and most companies lacked it in their work culture. However, research has shown that it is necessary to create a friendly work environment.
Before Covid-19, 77% (1) of employees were willing to work more hours for a more empathetic workplace. According to Harvard Business Review (2), companies that prioritize empathy outperform other companies by 20%. And as many as 92% of HR executives (3) note that a compassionate workplace is vital to employee retention.
Is empathy a critical skill?
After years of decline, empathy in the workplace has emerged again, as well as other challenging issues like mental health, work-life balance, and burnout. Once treated lightly, empathy now appears as one of the essential leadership skills. With the rise of remote work during the pandemic, it became the skill managers needed to lead their teams remotely. But is it really so?
“People keep hearing that they need to be more empathetic. But only few ask what that means. It’s not enough to throw smart phrases at people, especially those who aren’t trained in basic business psychology,” says Daniel Aduszkiewicz, the CEO and Co-Founder of Human Panel.
Don’t be a therapist
The expert points out that being compassionate in a remote environment is not something you can learn overnight. It doesn’t mean asking “how do you feel” all the time. And it doesn’t mean encouraging poor work performance. It’s more about taking the other person’s perspective and putting yourself in their shoes to see the situation from a different perspective.
There is a thin line between being an empathetic leader and a would-be therapist. And a boss should never be a therapist – blurring those lines can be very irresponsible and provoke a conflict of interest.
“On the one hand there is compassion towards the employee, on the other hand, there is the expectation of performance,” says Daniel Aduszkiewicz.
Who is afraid of feelings?
Over the past 14 months, we’ve all experienced a lot of anxiety and stress, which means we’re all more vulnerable. Empathy in the workplace helps build trust and gives insight into how people think and feel. But in today’s virtual world, other skills are important too.
“An excess of empathy can even lead to manipulation. I’ve seen people trying to lead organizations wrapped around a certain approach because we hear many experts and coaches talk about showing emotion and vulnerability. But a leader should never forget their business goals,” comments Daniel Aduszkiewicz.
Get the job done
Despite the rise of a more human approach to employees, remote leadership shouldn’t be only about empathy. Acknowledging employees’ feelings and mental health counts, but a remote leader needs to focus on achieving goals and helping employees efficiently.
“It’s not about having one-to-one conversations and listening to people’s problems all the time. If your employee reports that they’re having trouble focusing because they have to take care of their elderly parents, maybe there’s a way to help them more efficiently than just saying ‘I hear you,'” adds Daniel Aduszkiewicz.
For this reason, it’s okay to ask people how they feel. But remember that you have one goal at the end of the day – to get the job done.
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