by Richard Avdoian
Empathy in the workplace was never really mentioned or expected when I first made the shift from a behavioral medicine professional to starting my business more than 20 years ago. In fact, when I include my professional background or mentioned mental health in a conversation, in my marketing materials or proposals it was a deterrent. Being empathetic was and for many still considered being to touchy, feely and believe to have no place in the workplace.
Today, however employees from all generations are not only receptive to but expect workplaces and particularly management and colleagues to be more empathetic. Businesses owners and executives that do not incorporate being empathetic in the workplace culture will not only find it difficult to attract ideal employees but may rick losing key employees to other companies who have embraced the importance of empathy.
Many companies who jumped on the bandwagon creating a playful workplace with pool tables, ping pong, fuzz ball and elaborate coffee/beverage stations in hopes to attract the millennials are now finding that is not enough. Employees seek and expect a healthy, supportive workplace and leaders who are empathetic and are avoiding toxic, stressful work environments.
For business owners and executives to continue to survive and be profitable they need to embrace and adopt these attitude changes that are expected from all generations. These changes for many will require an internal personal self-examination and additional training not previously included in leadership training.
What it takes to be an empathetic business owner/executive.
Understand the importance of empathy.
First, we must recognize empathy in business was not mentioned in BS or MBA programs or leadership books. For many it will feel awkward to discuss and even more difficult to express. It is more than simply being nice, an empathetic business owner can recognize and understands what another person feels, is experiencing and needs from their perspective. Employees are generally uncomfortable talking about stress and anxiety at work, which contribute to more intense stress and elevated anxiety. Empathetic business owners create environments where staff feel safe and encouraged to express their stress and bouts feeling anxious. It is not necessary to know the source or details of the employee’s stress or anxiety, just offer support and work with them to make their work less stressful by listening observing and understanding how they work, their strengths and where they need mentoring or changes in assignments.
Take Time to Think before Quickly Reacting
For many business owners and executives their immediate reaction to something going wrong or not meeting a deadline is to blow up, scold and make hasty assumptions rather than taking to time get the facts first. An empathetic owner will ask questions, ask for an explanation, encourage employees to acknowledge mistakes, and jointly identify solutions and identify if a policy and procedure needs to be either developed or modified.
Shift from a strict leadership mindset to a leader/mentor mindset
Use performance reviews, daily observation, and effective listening to identify employees’ individual strengths, potential and offer opportunities to elevate their skills which will strengthen the team and work culture. An empathetic owner encourages employees and management to ask for what they need to succeed and ask questions, so they see work as a place to fully explore, grow and advance. This shift not only benefits the employees but will create a work culture of others establishing mentorship relations within the work force. All with a strong empathetic mindset.
Richard Avdoian is president/CEO of the Midwest Business Institute Inc., a business consulting and training firm. For information about training and seminars, contact Richard at 618-972-8588 or Richard@RichardAvdoian.com.