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Employee Well-Being and Workplace Empathy: More than Just Trends?

By Holly Mockus   |   
Empathy, communications, quiet quitting, retention

In this period of massive labor shortages, quiet quitting, and overall uncertainty, the greatest perk any employer could offer now might be empathy.

Many employees today lack the connection needed to forge long-lasting bonds with their jobs, coworkers, and supervisor, making it easier to move to another company. 

A recent study found that 66% of American frontline workers said they are rarely, never, or only sometimes listened to by management on safety issues. If supervisors aren’t listening and paying attention to something as important as workplace safety, they’re probably not listening to more personal concerns.

Listening and empathy go hand in hand. Unfortunately, many supervisors are proficient at neither. Empathy is a complex attribute nurtured as leaders improve communication, leadership, teamwork, and performance management skills.

Some people may think they don’t have time for empathy or listening to others and their problems. However, supervisors must understand the concerns and needs of their teams to create a workplace where people feel welcomed, listened to, and understood. That’s what empathy is all about.

It Takes Both Sides
Empathy isn’t entirely reserved for supervisors. Everyone can benefit from basic communication skills. All sides must know how to share and receive information and understand how their message affects others. Employees must be able to verbalize their thoughts and feelings and why.

I was at a conference once where a company was presenting a case study on how they stopped employee turnover. The churn was so high that they conducted a study to ask employees why they were leaving. Ultimately, they discovered new employees were leaving because the tenured employees were mean to them.

That’s a classic example of why empathy is needed across the board. Older employees should remember what it’s like to be the new guy and offer empathy and coaching to help new employees feel welcomed and adapt to their new roles. 

Don’t Neglect DEI Training
The importance of respect and consideration underscores the need for company-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training. DEI training is more than checking a legal box. It’s about ensuring every employee feels welcome and safe from harassment. These training courses should cover real-life scenarios and topics such as overcoming bias, understanding race and equity, proper workplace conduct, and social skills in the workplace. Make DEI training part of your standard HR training curriculum.    

Develop Active and Flexible Listening Skills
Active listening skills are needed to create an environment where employees feel included and valued. Training can help emerging leaders improve how they listen and turn that feedback into something actionable.

Empathy also enables an understanding of multiple backgrounds and cultures. In manufacturing plants with numerous cultures and nationalities, it’s essential for leaders to understand what drives and motivates employees before and after work.  

Listening skills can also be honed with the basics, like maintaining eye contact, eliminating distractions during conversations, and knowing when to stop talking and give others a chance to speak. Not all employees are comfortable with face-to-face meetings and answering questions in a crowd. So, it’s important to know how employees like to communicate. This might involve, for example, email vs. direct conversations.

Set Boundaries and Maintain Discipline
Sometimes empathy can be carried too far, leading supervisors to overlook bad behaviors and habits that jeopardize safety and quality. While it’s important to understand and appreciate the concerns of frontline workers, supervisors must still hold them accountable for their actions. Leaders should show empathy without looking the other way.  

While it might seem like a time to tread lightly around employees, leaving safety issues unfollowed can lead to significant consequences and allow other workers to develop bad safety habits.

Intertek Alchemy can help your organization build a culture centered on empathy through 20 leadership eLearning courses that cover topics like:

  • Providing Constructive Feedback
  • Active Listening
  • Receiving Feedback
  • Managing Difficult Conversations
  • Dealing with Difficult People
  • Valuing Differences
  • Handling Employee Complaints

Contact us if you have questions about how to teach empathy in your organization or if you’d like additional information about these courses.

For further reading on maintaining a positive, engaging workforce environment, download this free eBook: The Truth About Quiet Quitting in Manufacturing…and How to Prevent It.

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