The role empathy plays in developing engagement
When your top performers make important decisions on the job, are they most likely thinking rationally or emotionally? The answer may surprise you.
In truth, while most people estimate that 20% or less of their work decisions are made on an emotional basis, emotions are behind every decision we make. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing: humans are emotional creatures by nature, and a firm understanding of how to monitor and use emotions—called emotional intelligence or EQ—can have a major positive effect in the workplace. Some studies suggest that 67% of all abilities associated with strong job performance are also tied to a high EQ.
One of the major components of emotional intelligence is empathy, the ability to identify, understand, and relate to emotions that other people are expressing. While some people are naturally more empathetic than others, empathy (and emotional intelligence in general) is comprised of skills that can be learned and developed through practice.
How do employee engagement and empathy intersect?
Employee engagement is different than happiness or satisfaction on the job. An engaged employee is emotionally invested in the business itself, which drives better performance and a willingness to go above and beyond the baseline of what’s expected. Obviously, these workers are incredibly valuable to their employers, and seeking opportunities to increase employee engagement should reflect that value.
Empathy is a critical piece to creating a workplace environment that promotes employee engagement. Here are three examples of the role it can play:
1. Empathy drives the creation of a vision that resonates with everyone on the team
The ideal team vision should inspire passion in the work that each member puts forth. Developing a vision through empathy takes into account the beliefs and feelings of everyone involved, allowing your entire workforce to become invested in how they can contribute to success.
2. Empathy helps build a work environment based on collaboration and trust
Modern workplaces are composed of people from many different backgrounds. Successful collaboration requires that all of these workers trust their employer and feel like they are being listened to. When the entire team is treated with empathy and their emotions are acknowledged, everyone involved feels like they are being heard.
3. Leaders who understand and display empathy are better mentors and inspire better results
Emotional intelligence is one of the most important key attributes that outstanding leaders possess. It’s the ability to use empathy to understand what motivates a team and use that motivation to generate meaningful connections that sets outstanding leaders apart from the rest.
How can empathy be promoted in the workplace?
It’s clear that empathy’s impact on employee engagement shouldn’t be ignored. With every study conducted on the subject, more and more evidence exists to highlight its benefits. So how can it be incorporated into L&D or employee onboarding in a meaningful way? There are a few different techniques you can consider:
- Allow opportunities for employees to master mindfulness. Becoming familiar with their own feelings allows workers to better understand and relate to each other. Specifically, practicing self-compassion as part of mindfulness overall correlates highly with empathy for others. Mindfulness also helps learners regulate themselves, improving attention, focus, and behavior.
- Providing opportunities for collaboration in groups, both in online and in-person training, allows employees to exercise their interpersonal skills and abilities. Simply exposing teams to the emotions, opinions, and perspectives of their peers can help foster growth in emotional intelligence. An even greater effect can be reached through exercises that involve emotionally-compelling case studies, serious games, and challenges for testing social skills. Social media activities can be a valuable tool for this kind of learning.
- Let your employees perform self-assessments on emotional intelligence. Many people haven’t given emotional intelligence much thought, or do not realize the major impact it can have on their work performance. By allowing employees to evaluate their own EQ, they can identify areas which need improvement, as well as areas in which they excel.
Through fostering empathy and emotional intelligence, you can help your employees develop valuable skills and create a workplace environment where it’s easy for your team to become engaged in what they do. Empathy can be a difficult skill to teach, but it pays off in the long run.
How is empathy leveraged in your business? How can a greater understanding of emotional intelligence benefit your workers and your company at large? Acknowledging the heavy role emotions play in the workplace is the first step to a realm of possibilities.
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Blake Beus is a Director of Learning Solutions with extensive experience in healthcare and financial services. What Blake enjoys most about his role at Allen is helping organizations implement initiatives that have a real impact on the business.