Attracting and retaining a diverse and talented team is top of mind for virtually every firm leader these days. And while competitive salaries, benefits, and flexible work policies certainly help, chances are, you might be missing out on one crucial ingredient for hiring and holding on to great people: empathy.
According to a 2021 study by Businessolver, a benefits technology company, while half of CEOs say empathy in their organizations is sufficient, only one in four employees agree. And that's a problem because a previous version of the same study found that 82% of employees would consider leaving their job for a more empathetic organization. Clearly, empathy is a critical skill for firm leaders, managers and staff to display if it wants to progress toward a diverse and inclusive workplace.
Unfortunately, improving empathy in an organization isn't as simple as adding it to a values statement or saying you're going to be more empathetic. Like any other initiative, it takes strategy, intention, and accountability. These tips can help.
Practice empathetic listening
When a team member comes to you with a problem, do you focus on the person and engage with their message? Empathetic listening is about more than taking in their words. You need to seek to understand the feelings and motivations behind what they're saying and ask follow-up questions when needed.
Consider a female employee who approaches a male Managing Partner to express that she feels she's not being given choice clients or projects because of her gender. The MP may not be able to relate, but he can avoid jumping to conclusions or dismissing her feelings and ask questions. Even if he doesn't necessarily agree with her assessment of the situation, he can express genuine concern and understanding of her feelings.
Encourage others and be supportive
Another way to demonstrate empathy is to support and encourage others. When people work hard and achieve their goals, it's important to cheer them on. When they're dealing with personal struggles, it's just as important to trust that they know how best to deal with situations in their own life and handle them appropriately.
You may never know when your words of support and encouragement are the difference between feeling a sense of belonging or becoming disengaged but continue to encourage them.
Change is all around us — from rapidly evolving technologies to changing expectations for our careers, workplaces and personal lives. Every problem can't be solved with a cookie-cutter approach.
Empathetic leaders have mental flexibility. They're good at shifting perspectives and changing plans or directions based on new information. As a result, they're perceived as more open-minded.
People who are less flexible or more rigid may have a hard time with empathy because they struggle to understand what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes. For example, a rigid manager who never wanted to work remotely will struggle to understand someone who doesn't want to return to the office. As a result, they're more likely to be unsupportive and judgmental about their team member's decision because they wouldn't make the same choice.
Vulnerability can be a hard skill to master, but it helps foster a sense of emotional safety and belonging in the workplace. It requires you to open up, be authentic and embrace uncertainty even when you're not sure how others will react.
In many workplaces, vulnerability has traditionally been seen as a weakness. But it actually brings people together by reminding others that you're human. This doesn't mean you need to overshare. It simply means that when you make a mistake, feel negative emotions, or face challenges, you openly share those experiences with your team.
Making an effort to become more empathetic is an ongoing process, but the time and energy you invest in the effort will pay off. Empathetic coworkers, managers and leaders can have a massive influence on productivity, engagement, belonging and retention because people thrive when they feel like their concerns are being heard.
Do you need help developing technically skilled employees into emerging leaders?
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As a Project Manager for Boomer Consulting, Inc., Jacqueline plans, executes and manages the people, resources and scope of many of our firm’s projects, programs and events. Her primary focus is on managing projects for IT Consulting, Strategic Planning and Talent Consulting. In addition, Jacqueline works closely with leadership to oversee the company’s human resources by managing hiring, onboarding, training and development and overseeing our Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS). She also supports our Allyship for Diversity commitment at BCI, which seeks to strengthen diversity, equity and inclusion within Boomer Consulting and the accounting profession. Jacqueline also works on the strategy and development of our eLearning initiatives.