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Empathetic workplaces improve diversity and growth

Technology is fuelling an empathy deficit. And that’s not good for diversity or growth

Empathy vs non empathy workplace: digital

Most of us will spend more than 50 years of our lives at work yet only one in 10 of us is engaged at work, according to Gallup. This, says founder and CEO of The Empathy Business, Belinda Palmer, is because organisations are “places devoid of empathy”.

Pulling examples ranging from Twitter trolling to the HP Computers are Racist video from 2009 that showed that facial-tracking software could not recognise African American faces, Palmer says technology is part of the problem. However, digital natives are the ones driving the demand for empathy in the workplace.

Organisations should talk about creating places of empathy rather than about diversity, says Palmer. This, she believes, will solve the problem of diversity while encouraging greater inclusion and fostering better work cultures. Indeed, where conversations about diversity emphasise otherness, Palmer says, “empathy unites us”.

Empathetic companies also deliver better financial growth. The top 10 businesses in The Empathy Business’s Empathy Index have increased in value more than twice as much as the bottom 10 companies, experienced a rise in earnings per share by 6% on average compared to a fall of 9% by the bottom 10 and generate 50% more earnings per employee than the bottom 10 companies.

The seven principles of empathetic companies

To become an empathetic company, organisations need to focus on the following seven principles:

  1. Ethics
  2. Authenticity
  3. Belonging
  4. Meaning
  5. Reassurance
  6. Empowerment
  7. Collaboration

Empathy nudges

‘Empathy nudges,’ such as changing intimidating terms like ‘head office’ and ‘frontline’ to ‘support hub’ and ‘front of house,’ respectively, help foster a culture of kindness and understanding.

Another empathetic nudge may be supplying employees with complimentary fruit and decorating the area with a sign that says “Enjoy the fruit on us!” Similarly, rather than host infrequent and lengthy meetings that boost the egos of managers and leaders, implement 15-minute standing-up meetings that force discussions to focus on business.

Empathy vs non empathy workplace: food

 

Empathy vs non empathy workplace: environment

Empathy vs non empathy workplace: food

Empathy vs non empathy workplace: suits

These things, Palmer laments, are not hard. Simple and easy to do, such acts go far to enhance the human experience and create a culture of empathy from the inside-out.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”. A 2016 study by the Interdisciplinary Program on Empathy and Altruism Research (iPEAR) found that women were more empathetic than men, older people more empathetic than young people, and collectivistic cultures more empathetic than individualistic ones.

Research shows that high empathy countries also have high levels of agreeableness, conscientiousness, self-esteem, prosocial behaviour and wellbeing. It reveals a positive link between the nature of cultures in which people live and the empathetic qualities they themselves display, thus emphasising the need for cultures to promote empathy if individuals are to inherit and exhibit the same quality.

 

Belinda Palmer presented at UNLEASH18 in London, UK in March 2018

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