Effective managers who understand their team’s needs and steer them out of tricky situations are more crucial than ever. Companies can develop these types of leaders by fostering the necessary skills for success in them, namely empathy–a hallmark of competent leadership.
Since the new world of hybrid work requires teams to rely on online tools, the physical distance between team members can make handling complicated projects that benefit from frequent in-person interactions challenging.
These circumstances make empathy a vital trait for leaders in hybrid teams. To better understand empathy at work, here’s a closer look at what it means and why being empathetic matters to hybrid teams.
What is Empathy in the Workplace?
Empathy is understanding and relating to another person’s thoughts, feelings, or experiences. An empathetic individual can see themself in another person’s shoes and react to their situation with compassion.
Empathy helps your employees form genuine and empathic bonds with each other. And in turn, these connections improve working relationships and employee performance.
Knowing the Difference Between Empathy & Sympathy
Moreover, empathy is different from sympathy. Many confuse one with the other, so learning the distinction between both traits is essential.
Essentially, sympathy only means you feel pity for the other person without trying to understand things from their perspective. Meanwhile, empathy allows you to imagine yourself in their place. And when it comes to work, empathy is more supportive and productive than sympathy.
Why is Empathy in Leadership Important to Hybrid Teams?
Human-centered leaders who foster empathy, interdependence, trust, and genuine connections within their organizations make everyone feel safe. Let’s see how this factors into the workplace.
In 2020, the Department of Health reported that at least 3.6 million Filipinos have dealt with specific mental health issues. These challenges have affected local firms, with companies losing an estimated ₱26.3 million from absenteeism caused by mental health conditions in 2019.
Research from 2018 suggests negative attitudes toward people with mental health problems are widespread among the general Filipino public. The study also found that certain cultural traits, such as the perception that mental health problems were a family disease, created a stigma surrounding mentally ill individuals. As a result, the study’s respondents:
- Lost friends and good opportunities
- Faced financial challenges
- Experienced worsening mental health
These insights emphasize how crucial empathy is to employees experiencing mental health challenges. When leaders empathize with their situation, workers feel supported and understood. In turn, they can deliver their best work, be open about their difficulties, and feel optimistic about their roles.
Empathy can even help employees recover and continue working sooner. It can also reduce employee turnover, absences, and failure to reach goals, resulting in fewer expenses and more profitability.
How Can Leaders Show Empathy at Work?
Demonstrating empathy in the workplace takes effort from organizational leadership. Here’s how leaders can empathize with team members during their most challenging times.
Look Out For Signs of Burnout
Burnout is one challenge that employees and leaders face nowadays. People under stress are working longer hours than usual and blurring the lines between work and home, causing burnout.
Empathetic leaders prevent burnout by identifying signs of overwork in their people. Quick weekly check-ins are a significant first step—you can get updates on everyone’s projects and help overworked employees handle their workload through these meetings.
Show Team Members You’re Interested In Their Needs & Goals
Furthermore, empathetic leaders understand employee needs and goals and support them with the necessary tools and experience. These efforts can boost employee engagement and inspire your people to go beyond what’s expected of them. Ultimately, empathy in the workplace may help improve employee performance and create a healthy work culture.
Extend Help to Employees with Personal Problems
Today’s world of work is bringing one’s work and personal life together. That said, empathetic leaders should acknowledge employees' problems and handle them alongside their duties. Moreover, these leaders know they must be at their people’s side during the challenging parts of their lives.
If you see employees struggling at work, encourage open communication and transparency. They can create a safe space where employees can express their feelings without fear of judgment.
Be Compassionate Toward Those Experiencing Personal Loss
Genuine working relationships and friendships are vital to employees. Researchers from George Mason University suggest that supportive work friends play a crucial role in employee well-being.
Through empathetic leadership, managers can connect with their people, especially when employees experience a personal loss. As team members face this hurdle, showing compassion and support can go a long way.
Listen to Your Team Members
Listening to your employees takes more than hearing what they say. You must also open your eyes and heart to your people’s experiences. Essentially, it involves:
- Being attentive to the person’s body language, tone of voice, and emotions
- Listening without thinking about what you should say next
Open eyes and ears, plus an open heart, will help you empathize with your team members in their time of need.
Let Everyone Express Their Thoughts & Feelings
Empathetic leaders also know the impact of distractions on listening to others. A distracted listener can feel impatient or frustrated and keep the speaker from sharing what’s on their mind.
When listening to your team members, don’t hurry or interrupt them or act as if you want to solve their problems immediately. Empathy encourages you to let people express their current thoughts and feelings.
Keep an Open Mind
Additionally, empathetic leaders leave judgment behind and open their minds. They don’t necessarily view their people’s feelings as statements to agree or disagree with. Instead, compassionate leaders look deeper at a team member’s thoughts and perspective. And in doing so, they can better understand people’s experiences and perceptions.
Start From Within
Embodying empathy can help leaders promote the trait within their organization. But to achieve this, managers must start from within themselves.
According to Deshani Ganegoda, Associate Professor of Management at the Melbourne Business School, dispirited or burnt-out leaders struggle to empathize with others. That’s because these individuals want to save their energy.
Ganegoda advises, “Take time off to manage your energy levels if you find yourself in this situation.” You can re-energize with fun activities like a weekend trip or more time with loved ones.
Build a Healthy Workplace Culture with Empathy
Empathy is essential to effective leadership in hybrid workplaces. It lets you understand what your people are experiencing and support them throughout their situation. You can give everyone a safe space to share their thoughts by demonstrating empathy at work. This can help improve communication, form positive working relationships, and drive retention, performance, and profitability.
For more actionable steps toward creating a healthy work culture, visit the Sprout blog today.