Empathy & What To Do About It

The last few weeks, I’ve spent a large chunk of my time talking with HR teams about politics.  It is hard not to talk about politics these days.  Politics can (and have been) all consuming lately.  Research has shown that companies that take a political stance benefit while others feel they need to be silent.  We’re seeing the politics of the pocketbook for certain brands for some consumers.  Regardless of your organization’s stance, there is one thing that HR pros and their organization need to do.  Show empathy.

There are two main reasons empathy is key.  One is that it is good for business.  Recent research has shown that when managers show empathy, employees are more engaged and business improves.  Listening to employees, understanding their needs, and responding to those needs create employee loyalty and strong employer brands.  Not showing empathy could spell disaster.

The second reason is that we all need a little empathy right now.  For many, these are scary times.  It is important that we see each other, hear each other’s concerns, and while we may not always agree, we still have to acknowledge the feelings of others.  And, the feelings are strong and deeply, personally felt on both ends.  The polarization of the world affects the workplace.

A good example is the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision last night on the immigration Executive Order.  Some employees may have done a little dance while others may have feared a terrorist attack is now imminent.  But both sides need to work together.  In situations like this, employers should:

  • Allow the event to happen. Don’t block outside internet sites, turn off the news in the cafeteria, or strictly enforce bans on personal smartphone use.  Allowing employees to know what is going on will help later in this process.
  • See all your employees. If you have some HB1 holders, they are likely fearful.  Other employees may be championing the new administration.  You can’t listen to employees if you don’t know who they are.
  • Hear your employees. Talk with your HB1 holders and express your commitment to them.  Minority employees may be more cautious in the workplace.  Ask for their input, their voice is important to your success.  Understand that both sides exist in your workplace, hear them out because if you don’t, the slow, unacknowledged simmer will eventually boil over.
  • Allow employees to express themselves. But their expression doesn’t mean they get to cause disruption or otherwise hurt the company.  Don’t terminate employees for participating in protests provided they don’t do so while representing the organization.  Employees can feel strongly and march against XYZ, just maybe not in a company t-shirt.  Posting signs that could enflame feelings can be taken down.  Respect should rule the day in the workplace.
  • Everybody works together. A DJT voter works with a Hillary voter.  Your company’s mission – whether it is crafting the best wingnut to saving the whales – wins out every time.  If employees can’t work together or refuse to do so, they are not helping the company do what you do.  If reminding employees about this doesn’t work, then it may be time they move on.

Empathy is a secret sauce in an organization, because it is hard.  But it is worth it.  Listening to employees prevents resentment that can turn into litigation.

Image courtesy of vecteezy.com

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