Improve Employee Social Awareness Through Workplace Empathy
People appreciate when you show care and concern
Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” It’s a skill that can be and should be trained in the workplace. It’s critical for a leader to be effective, for employees to successfully work together, and for everyone to be more socially aware. If you think about it, more empathy in the world would be good for everyone.
For years, companies have had a focus on building a diverse workplace. While diversity feeds innovation and creative problem solving, it can also create differences and misunderstandings among employees:
- Census reports all racial and ethnic minorities growing faster than whites.
- We have multiple generations in the workplace: Baby Boomers, Generations X, Y (millennials), and Z.
- The millennials have brought new terms to the workplace regarding sexual identity and sexual preference that are controversial and confusing to some people.
- The combination of social media and politics has shined a spotlight on differences of opinion, beliefs, and values and encouraged an “Us vs. Them” mentality.
With that diversity comes the need to build social awareness. Now that we come from different backgrounds, political beliefs, and experiences, we need help understanding each other! It’s not just about KPIs and deadlines. It’s also about having empathy for the humans you spend more time with than your family.
Empathy is the softer side of the business. It’s about the people, the human beings living their lives. Some days they are happy. Other days they are depressed, stressed, or sleep-deprived. They might be sick and dealing with different doctors giving a different diagnosis. Their marriage might be failing or they may be planning a wedding. The point is, the things they are dealing with in their own lives affect their performance in their work lives.
The old saying used to be “Don’t bring your personal life into work with you.” Sure, sounds easy. Like there’s a mystical force field when we cross the threshold into our workplace and we magically forget that our father is dying and we need to find a hospice facility, or we have to arrange carpool because school gets out early on Friday at the same time as our big presentation. It reminds me of the quote from Wendy Mass “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
It’s in your best interest for your employees to be at their best so they can accomplish their work responsibilities for the company. And as their employer, you care about their personal welfare but you can’t directly affect what is happening in their personal lives. You can train them to be more socially aware by building empathy in your workplace. I suggest you approach this from two different angles.
- Show empathy as an employer
- Build empathy among your employees
Show Empathy as an Employer
The 2018 State of Workplace Empathy from Business Solver found ninety-six percent of employees believe it is important for their employers to demonstrate empathy. Eighty-seven percent of CEOs believe that a company’s financial performance is tied to empathy in the workplace, as do 79% of HR professionals.
We have valid business reasons to focus on this challenge. Employees want it. Business leaders agree it helps financial performance. So what do you do?
Provide training in general
Companies invest in training for a variety of self-serving reasons like decreasing turnover, improving productivity, and increasing profits. The families of your employees depend on your company for their livelihood. Of course, driving profits and revenue is a priority.
As an employer, it is also important to understand the individual and their professional goals. When you provide training that helps employees improve their skills, you benefit from improved productivity and efficiency. The employee benefits by gaining self-confidence, relieving stress, and giving them a chance to be promoted, contribute more, and increase their salary.
Offer health and wellness training
Many employers recognize that improving the health and wellness of their employees can reduce healthcare costs and increase productivity. Offering courses on ergonomics, stress management, healthy eating, and “deskercises” can help people be more well at work. Even courses on financial wellness can set you apart as an employer with empathy. Helping people budget their money, manage their debts, and build their savings can alleviate stress they feel every day. You can read more in our blog post about improving workplace wellness.
Create empathetic HR policies
Another tool to use to build empathy in your workplace is to create policies that demonstrate empathy for the situations employees face in their personal lives. This includes FMLA and maternity and paternity leave. Policies on bereavement, personal, and sick days beyond vacation days are helpful along with anti-harassment and discrimination policies.
Build Empathy Among Your Employees
Training can definitely play a role in building workplace empathy and helping employees understand the situations their coworkers may be dealing with.
- To address the racial diversity in the workplace, offer courses on unconscious bias and cross-cultural intelligence.
- To improve multi-generational relationships, offer courses on understanding and integrating millennials and generation Z.
- Improve and strengthen relationships among different personality types by offering DISC training. Each personality type is going to handle issues in their personal lives very differently.
Some training can help all employees be more socially aware and have more empathy for their coworkers. A few examples are:
- A course on active listening can help employees collaborate and problem solve. It could help a manager truly hear the concerns of their team or understand the perspective from an employee in a different generation.
- Helping employees find purpose will connect their daily tasks to a higher vision. Training on this topic could involve exercises mapping the company’s mission to the employee’s personal goals. Sharing these goals with coworkers can help the team build rapport and a deeper connection.
- A training series on cross-cultural considerations can help create a safe environment where people of all backgrounds and cultures can thrive. Courses can help to explain cultural differences in communication styles, personal space, and how they view time.
Everyone has unique needs, idiosyncrasies, and preferences. Many training programs focus on bigger topics like compliance and leadership. It can be difficult and expensive to offer training related to the needs of a single person or a small group of people. I am not talking about an hour long course on each topic. But a microlearning video five to ten minutes long can do the job. Training videos from HSI cover these unique needs.
- Assisting a woman to prepare for maternity leave and then pumping at work. The logistics for a nursing mother can be overwhelming, but not impossible. This program gives you insight and tips to make the process easier.
- Helping employees and managers understand opioid addiction. Understanding the warning signs can help an employee if they are dealing with this with a family member or a coworker.
- Helping a coworker returning to work after the loss of a loved one. No one knows what to say. Our courses provide some guidance on how to cope with your own grief or how to show compassion to your grieving coworker.
- Supporting employees with allergies and encouraging co-workers to minimize bringing the allergens into the workplace. This may seem trivial if you don’t have serious allergies but it can be extremely helpful to the person with the allergy to peanut butter or pet dander.
We spend 40+ hours a week with our co-workers. That may be more time than we spend with our own family. It can be very rewarding to think about doing something for others and being more socially aware of their needs or challenges. Helping others can ultimately make you feel better too.
HSI offers training videos on all of the concepts I mentioned.
- You can watch several of the courses I mention on social awareness and workplace empathy.
- Sign up for a full-featured, full library free trial of our HSI LMS, our learning management system and watch all of them.
- HSI provides our clients with email templates and fliers to help promote the training throughout the contract, not just at the launch. This is a sample flier on workplace empathy that our clients hang in their common areas to promote the training.