There is strong evidence that emphasizing empathy over performance has led companies to cultivate more innovative and inclusive work environments.
Stop and read that sentence again, if you would. Yes, it says empathy over performance.
This was something of a surprise to me, too! It’s not exactly an intuitive move in the corporate world. The ability to share and understand your colleagues’ emotions might not seem to directly impact your bottom line.
A recent Gallup study shows that 80% of CEOs believe empathy is key to success in business. Gone are the days when the Wolf of Wall Street archetype led to sustainable prosperity. (Come to think of it, those businesses really weren’t sustainable, were they? And if we were handing out grades, they’d most certainly get an ‘F’ in company culture.)
In large, multinational corporations and even small startups, when each of us comes to work, we bring our whole selves with us—whether we like it or not. Even if your office doesn’t have a wall of personal photos or memorabilia, you still likely have personal things on your mind. These might include favorite hobbies, caregiving responsibilities, relationship or health challenges, skills gaps and yes, long-term career aspirations. I guarantee every single person on your executive team has their own mix of personal concerns as you’re reading this, too.
Would you say that your current work environment is an empathetic one?
How Empathy Works at Work
Many of us have taken personality tests like Myers-Briggs, and can readily recite our four-letter classifications. Whether you’re an INFJ or an ESTP, ‘success’ isn’t just about working with those who think and behave differently than you; it’s about being able to put yourself in their shoes. You cultivate trust—a critical part of a strong company culture—when others feel seen and heard by you.
Here are a few reasons why empathy should play a key role in your company:
- Employees feel more comfortable collaborating with one another;
- Teammates report feeling happier at work;
- And loyalty, productivity and retention tend to rise.
The more that you read on the subject, the impact of workplace empathy on company culture and its connection to sustainable growth becomes much clearer.
Enabling Connections at Scale
That’s not to say many of us aren’t encountering some major hurdles to cultivating and showing empathy. How do you do it when you’re separated from your colleagues by 10 time zones? What ways can you build a deeper understanding when teams are siloed by discipline, or have had little to no in person interaction with one another? The larger an organization gets, the harder this becomes to pull off.
We talk with executives at Fortune 500 companies and leading tech organizations about these challenges often.
In a perfect world, there’d be some virtual watercooler that would magically bring employees together to share, to discuss, and to informally learn from and with one another. All hands meetings via Skype or Zoom don’t quite cut it, and neither do stand-ups or routine one-on-one calls. If you work in a distributed environment, it can be incredibly isolating. And somewhere along the way, the empathy piece falls to the wayside as meeting deadlines and making progress seems paramount. We become two-dimensional people, a collection of words and the odd emoji typed into an app or an email—especially when working asynchronously.
Where does this lead us? I’m a startup founder, and I’d be remiss to not mention my own company here, not because I want to pitch you, but because we’ve worked to solve this problem. You might not say that Emerj is in the empathy business (could we make that a category, please?!), but we are absolutely in the business of building connections that produce deeper understanding, stronger relationships and innovative ideas.
Empathy is central to our work. We specifically designed an AI-powered platform that puts humanity back into our professional lives. And we’ve seen firsthand that companies that invest in enabling their employees to gain knowledge and build internal networks are winning the culture wars.
People are asking tough questions, tackling big challenges, seeking out unconventional solutions and remaining vulnerable with one another. By enabling teams and individuals to feel comfortable connecting with others across the organization, leaders are encouraging positive morale while creating a competitive advantage through everything mentioned above plus employer branding. (Yep, there’s that bottom line again…a nice peripheral bonus!)
There are colleagues in your organization right now who are struggling with something where you could be a lifeline; there are executives who’d consider the opportunity to counsel someone, even briefly, a highly fulfilling experience. At Emerj, we’ve built a platform that not only makes these interactions possible—we make them visible and accessible.
I’ll end this post with one question for you.
Who could you impact in your work today?