Today’s workforce is incredibly unique and diverse. The competition for talent is forcing organizations to re-evaluate their traditional employee engagement initiatives. Engagement surveys are important for organizations to take a pulse check on what is happening in their environment.  

Employee engagement is a widely used term with numerous definitions. Regardless of which definition is used the consensus is that engaged employees are enthusiastic about their work and are emotionally committed to the organization and its goals.  The benefits of organizations with engaged workforces are well documented. High employee engagement results in higher productivity, greater profitability, lower absenteeism, less employee turnover, and fewer safety incidents.

Considering what organizations spend annually on employee engagement it is clear that their importance is understood. According to Harvard Business Review, “companies spend over $720 million each year on employee engagement, and that’s projected to rise to over $1.5 billion”. Yet at the same time, Gallup has reported that “the percentage of engaged workers in the U.S. – those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace – is now 34%…”.

Why is it so difficult to get this right? 

A key element in increased employee engagement is empathy. Empathy is the ability to connect, understand and share the feelings of others.   To be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and have the aptitude to see a situation through someone else’s filters.  This connection empowers, inspires and encourages others. An empathetic employer can understand the “whole” person not just the “work” person. 

It’s essential for all employees to feel that their employers are on their side, championing for them and working with them to help them succeed in every way possible.  Every one of us faces life changes, challenges or situations that sometimes create stress and can take time away from work. Employees who feel safe enough to discuss their situation with their employers and are met with empathy along with a willingness to help, remember how they were treated. When their basic needs are met they are naturally more engaged.  Engaged employees bring a positive outlook to the office, have a sense of belonging and feel that they are valued. 

Fostering a culture that includes empathy will result in increased employee engagement as well as strengthen productivity and retention. Workplace culture without empathy lacks high employee engagement which, in turn, can have a negative impact on the bottom line. 

Empathy may be considereda “soft skill” as well as an emotional muscle that strengthens when it is used.  It is a vital skill and, in manyorganizations, empathy isconsidered a core competency.An empathetic leader can mentor and coach employees effectively because they have the ability to connect with them.  

Fine-tuning the skill of empathy requires patience, practice, and commitment. Here are some practical tips you might consider to help you do this:

  • Active listening:  Stay focused on the other person, this is the art of active listening. Remember the saying: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak”. 
  • Acknowledgment: When we acknowledge what someone has said, we let them know that we have listened. This is not the same as agreeing with what is being said it simply lets them know you heard them. 
  • Validation: Let the other person know that they have a right to feel the way they do. This is not the same as judging if what they are saying is right or wrong, or agreeing in any way, it just lets them know that you can see things from their perspective.
  • Self-Awareness: Be conscious of your own emotions. Do not let assumptions and judgments cloud your vision. To be truly empathetic you must let go of predetermined beliefs.

Most importantly be present, genuine and authentic. Remember empathy is a skill and needs to be fined tuned. The more we use it the stronger it gets. 

One thing for sure, if empathy is part of the organizational culture, positive results will follow.

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