Are workplaces becoming less empathetic?

'It's clear that the pandemic and great resignation have created a shift in what workplace empathy looks like to employees'

Are workplaces becoming less empathetic?

Being empathetic in the workplace has its benefits.

In fact, 70 per cent of employees and HR professionals believe empathetic organizations drive higher employee motivation, according to a report from Businessolver, a provider of benefits technology.

But empathy in the workplace seems to be dropping. While 69 per cent of employees say their organizations are empathetic, this is down from 72 per cent last year, found the survey of more than 3,000 employees, HR professionals, and CEOs across six industries in the U.S.

"While it's discouraging to see the decline in empathy after last year's findings, the data isn't surprising," says Jon Shanahan, Businessolver president and CEO.

"It’s clear that the pandemic and great resignation have created a shift in what workplace empathy looks like to employees. Executives and leaders have hard work ahead of them to create an empathetic culture through policies and programs that reach all employees equally — whether that's in a home office or at a corporate headquarters."

While 80 per cent of leaders say they are satisfied with senior leadership, only 43 per cent of non-managers are satisfied, according to a previous report.

Chief empathy officer

It seems CEOs are also expected to be the chief empathy officer in their organization, according to the Businessolver report. Overall, 69 per cent of CEOs believe it’s their job to build empathy in the workplace.

However, 79 per cent of these leaders say they struggle to be empathetic, with 77 per cent worrying they will lose respect if they’re too empathetic — a nine-point increase from last year.

Also, there was a 25-point plunge in the number of employees who thought that their CEO played the most important role in building an empathetic workplace.

“This may also be a side effect of remote work or pandemic-related restrictions that limited employee engagement to their immediate supervisors,” according to Businessolver.

While nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) feel a sense of belonging and acceptance at work, that’s down from 73 per cent prior to the pandemic, according to a previous LifeWorks study.

Leading with empathy

“Displaying empathetic leadership can take many shapes and forms,” according to the Center for Creative Leadership, which recommends the following for leaders to show greater empathy in the workplace:

  • Watch for signs of burnout in others.
  • Show sincere interest in the needs, hopes and dreams of other people.
  • Demonstrate a willingness to help an employee with personal problems.
  • Show compassion when other people disclose a personal loss.

Employers can also encourage empathy in the workplace by doing the following:

  • Talk about empathy in the workplace to signal its value.
  • Teach listening skills.
  • Encourage genuine perspective-taking.
  • Cultivate compassion.
  • Support global managers.


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