27 September 2023

Sharing the care: How to empathise with your employees

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John Eades says the best leaders use empathy as an essential tool to get what they need from their teams.

When coming up with a list of key leadership skills, it’s not uncommon to see phrases like ‘good communicator’ or ‘strong decision-making abilities’ prominently featured.

While such attributes are important, another crucial trait is often overlooked.


Like many words today, its true meaning has been hijacked.

My company, LearnLoft, defines empathy as “how well you are able to identify with your team to understand their feeling and perspectives, in order to guide your actions”.

Empathy is key to connecting with employees and earning their respect.

There are plenty of examples that prove its value.

Empathy fuels productivity and performance.

An empathetic outlook has been found to significantly improve productivity.

A comprehensive study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that empathetic interventions could increase productivity in a range of environments.

One aspect of the study had lifeguards read stories about how their work helps others to increase their “perceptions of social impact and social work.”

The study found that those who read these stories had a noteworthy increase in “job dedication and helping behaviour”.

Similarly, university fundraiser participants were able to double how many donations they obtained when empathetic stories were shared.

Chief Executive of Clients on Demand, Russ Ruffino calls empathy “the key to great marketing”.

“When everything is said and done, that’s what your clients want — to be understood,” Mr Ruffino says.

“They want to know you understand their problems and concerns on a deep, personal level, and that you have the answers they need.

“The key to creating trust is to show clients that you know exactly how they feel, and how to fix what’s wrong.

“When you can do that, everything else is simple.”

These same principles are just as important when leading your internal team.

Your team will be more productive and perform better when it knows you understand it versus just being another set of employees.

Empathy increases happiness in the workplace.

Happiness in the workplace matters for both you and your employees.

For many, feeling appreciated or valued by their organisation is key to finding purpose and satisfaction in their work.

One study found that 66 per cent of employees state they would leave their job if they felt unappreciated.

For Millennials and Generation Z, those numbers are even higher.

Empathy is one of your best avenues for showing your employees that you care about their needs and value their contributions.

Entrepreneur and author, Gary Vaynerchuk says a lot of people think of leadership qualities as paternal — being aggressive or stern.

“I think of them as more maternal. I think the best managers have caring, empathetic, kind personalities,” Mr Vaynerchuk says.

When leaders do this they spur a release of serotonin and oxytocin in people as a result of their empathetic leadership.

Not only will it help employees feel a stronger bond to the team and organisation, but it will also reassure them that their contributions are valued.

Happier individuals will work harder and are less likely to leave for other opportunities.

Empathy fosters collaboration.

Organisations rarely succeed or fail based on the efforts of an individual leader — they require the collaborative input of several parties.

Many of the most successful business leaders understand that innovative solutions often come from others in their organisation.

They value the input and perspective others have to offer.

Google’s Project Aristotle research notably found that the most successful groups demonstrated empathy by having team members who were willing to discuss emotions utilising nonverbal cues.

At the same time they gave each group member equal time to contribute ideas.

Studies in education have similarly found that empathy is the baseline for successful collaborative efforts.

Empathy creates an environment where each team member becomes more willing to share their insights, and this is where many of the best ideas are found.

The above examples are just a small sample of how empathy can transform your office environment.

By learning to better understand your staff and demonstrating that you actually care about their needs, you will cultivate stronger performance than ever before.

* John Eades is the Chief Executive of LearnLoft and author of F.M.L. Standing Out and Being a Leader. He is also the host of the Follow My Lead Podcast and can be followed on instagram@johngeades.

This article first appeared on John’s LearnLoft blog.

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