Zoë Blake looks at the business case for making company culture more empathic.
A number of recent broadsheet and business press articles, perhaps triggered by the publication of a book on the subject by Satya Nadella (CEO of Microsoft), have discussed the evidence for whether bottom-line benefits can be derived from increased empathy in the workplace. For a variety of reasons, the answer is emphatically ‘yes’.
As the incidence of stress-related conditions continues to grow, alongside a new willingness for individuals to seek redress for bullying (and worse) in the workplace, smart businesses are seeking to deal proactively with the potential risks of these situations.
While the sincerely-held ethical values of businesses like Facebook and Google may raise an eyebrow in an old cynic like me, what is clear is that they perceive real advantage to be gained from a culture of empathy, beyond simply averting the risk of future lawsuits. Supporters point to The Harvard Business Review’s annual ‘Empathy Index’, based on an analysis of leadership, internal culture, ethics and brand perception of 170 of the world’s largest companies, which found that the top 10 typically increased their market value in 2016 by more than twice that of the bottom ten.
At the very least, people really want to work for, and stay longer at, emotionally intelligent companies – and it’s not just about the remuneration. After all, a sense of shared goals, of being listened to and supported are deep motivating forces in human psychology, and it’s clear that they are strong factors in driving the degree of effort and loyalty of a company’s employees.
According to the Chartered Management Institute, four out of five UK managers have received no training at all in leadership. With this in mind, failures aren’t surprising: the skills and successes that lead to promotion to team management don’t necessarily equip individuals for the complex task of getting the best from a range of personalities. And as workplaces become increasingly diverse, this skill gap can only become a bigger issue. After all, unless you can understand, empathise and identify with people, it’s very hard to know how to motivate them. Many well-planned and innovative HR strategies come a cropper due to inadequate team implementation at ground-level.
Enter the HR and consultancy sectors with a range of solutions and frameworks. One of the best, in EA’s experience, is to provide workshops and coaching around emotional intelligence (EI). Based on a solid (and growing) body of research stemming from the pioneering work of Daniel Goleman, the opportunity to test your emotional quotient (EQ), being introduced to why it matters and techniques to improve it combine to make a real difference to the abilities and confidence of team leaders.
Key to its success as an approach is the clear win:win for all concerned; better understanding and recognition of the needs of others by managers is good for galvanising teams and ultimately bottom-line business performance. It makes the working environment and company culture more attractive to all concerned, and even equips people to better cope with challenging relationships in any area of their lives. After all, improved self-awareness and empathy are as useful for coping with toddlers, teenagers and partners as they are for under-performing team members.
Written by Zoë Blake