Empathetic leadership can go a long way in improving employee engagement in the workplace, boosting employee morale, and ensuring higher employee productivity. 

Employee-leader relationships are one of the most important factors shaping positive employee experiences, and empathy is one of the most important leadership traits that drive those experiences.  

To build strong relationships with their teams leaders must show empathy and care for their people. When there is empathy, there is trust. And trust is the foundation of positive workplace culture and healthy workplace atmosphere. 

In this blog, we will define empathetic leadership, explain its benefits, and cover best practices for becoming a more empathetic leader.

Empathetic Leadership Defined

Empathetic leadership is one of the most popular leadership styles adopted by many successful leaders across the globe. 

This leadership style focuses on identifying with others and understanding their point of view, their needs, and their challenges. Empathetic leaders take a genuine interest in their people – they focus on understanding what makes them tick and what inspires and motivates them. 

With the emergence of the pandemic, remote work, and the era of ‘Great Resignation’, empathy became an essential skill that is immensely valuable for the future of work

When leaders are able to connect deeply with their team members and understand unique perspectives and experiences, they can help people navigate the uncertainty and disruption that is likely to come.

Enable your leaders to practice more empathy with Haiilo!

Later in this blog, we will cover the most important benefits of empathetic leaders. However, there are some downsides to be aware of. 

The biggest challenge empathetic leaders need to overcome is the difficulty of confronting others and providing negative feedback necessary for helping employees get better at their jobs and grow their careers. 

💡 Related: The Secrets of Effective Leadership In 2023 and Beyond

Why Empathy Is An Important Leadership Trait

Some professionals argue that having empathy at work is not necessarily a good thing, and one study found that only 63% of employees feel like their CEO is empathetic

But as nicely put by Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple:

quote by tim cook, ceo of apple

There certainly are many benefits of empathetic leaders, and we are about to take a deeper dive into those. 

Increases employee motivation and engagement

According to research, 76% of people who experienced empathy from their leaders reported they were engaged, compared with only 32% who experienced less empathy.

Another research by Businesolver has been evaluating the state of empathy in workplaces for years. According to them, more than 90% of CEOs, HR managers, and employees have agreed on the importance of empathy at work, with 71% of employees saying it’s a key driver in employee motivation.

a quote from businessolver

This is not surprising, as empathetic leadership is all about relating to and connecting with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives. When there is no empathy, it’s hard for leaders to get people excited about fulfilling their vision. 

Boosts employee morale and well-being

Leaders also have the power to impact their employees’ morale and well-being. Strong manager-employee relationships have proved to improve employees’ work-life balance

According to the previously mentioned research, when people felt their leaders were more empathetic, 86% reported they could navigate the demands of their work and life—successfully juggling their personal, family, and work obligations. This is compared with 60% of those who perceived less empathy.

Drives innovation

Empathetic leaders care about empowering their people. They consider other ideas and opinions, which is why it’s common to see more innovation within teams led by empathetic leadership. 

When people reported their leaders were empathetic, they were more likely to report they were able to be innovative61% of employees compared to only 13% of employees with less empathetic leaders.

Makes organizations more inclusive

Empathy also creates a sense of inclusivity. 50% of people with empathetic leaders reported their workplace was inclusive, compared with only 17% of those with less empathetic leadership.

Therefore, workplaces with empathetic senior leaders are also more likely to adopt and implement various DEI initiatives and best practices which can significantly impact the company’s bottom line. 

Improves employee retention

Last but not least, employees under empathetic leaders tend to be more loyal to their employers and stay longer on the job. Previously mentioned research found that 70% of employees feel empathy in leadership leads to lower turnover rates.

a quote from leaders.com

This higher retention comes from healthy workplace relationships, better work-life balance, more empowerment at work, and trust in leadership. 

How to Be an Empathetic Leader

Even though some people may not agree, empathy can be learned. And there are ways to become more empathetic as a leader. 

Let’s look into ways leaders can practice more empathy in the workplace. 

Listen actively

Empathetic leaders are those who understand that their thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and decisions are not always the best ones. 

Instead, they listen actively, encourage their employees’ share of voice, and take others’ perspectives into consideration. They are great listeners, and they appreciate bottom-up feedback

They understand that doing so helps them grow their leadership skills.

Even though it would be nice to have regular one-on-one bottom-up feedback sessions, this is not always realistic. Moreover, some employees prefer to give feedback anonymously. 

To accommodate, leaders need to be sending regular employee pulse surveys. The right set of questions can help them identify gaps and get valuable data on how to improve their leadership styles. 

Act on feedback

Even though many leaders are already using surveys to measure their employees’ state of mind, many don’t act on collected feedback. However, most of them don’t take action because they are unsure about how to use the collected data.

Ideally, your survey solution should not only give you raw responses, but it should also provide valuable insights and actionable recommendations for improvement. 

Smart survey solutions with powerful analytics and reporting can go a long way in helping leaders understand how and when they should practice more empathy with their teams.

Unfortunately, only ⅕ employees believe that their manager will act upon survey results.  

Work on communication skills

For empathetic leaders, it can be hard to give negative constructive feedback. But with the right set of verbal and non-verbal communication skills, they can find ways to provide valuable feedback without damaging relationships with their employees. 

💡 Check out our blog about the most important communication skills every manager should possess.

📹 Don’t miss out on our Masterclass to learn about how to create a successful internal communications strategy. 

Acknowledge success

Empathetic leaders understand the value of acts of appreciation towards their people. Employee recognition is one of the biggest drivers of employee motivation, engagement, and productivity. 

Yet, many employees still feel like their work is not appreciated enough, and they want more recognition from their superiors. 

The good news is that recognition doesn’t have to be monetary to work. Many people care more about words of gratitude than monetary rewards. So even if your company doesn’t have an extra budget to launch a formal employee recognition program, you can still make it work with words! 

Act as a role model

As a leader, your job is to also promote empathetic relationships within the team. By interacting with the team members in this way, you will encourage them to do the same. You can also motivate them to do so by proposing dynamics and activities that promote team building.

Other Leadership Styles to Consider

Recently, we published a blog post about the three most efficient and three least efficient leadership styles

Here are the four styles leaders should consider when managing a team. 

  1. Democratic leadership – Democratic leaders are the ones who understand the importance of asking employees for input, and they always consider their people’s opinions and concerns before making the final decision. 
  2. Coach-style leadership – Coaching leadership style is one of the most efficient leadership styles today, but unfortunately also one of the most underused styles. The biggest trait of such a leader is the ability to quickly recognize their team members’ strengths, weaknesses, and motivations to help each individual improve. 
  3. Servant leadershipServant leaders live by a people-first mindset. Before anything else, these leaders care about their employees’ well-being and general satisfaction. When this is achieved, their employees’ productivity also increases. 
  4. Transformational leadership – Transformational leaders pay attention to the concerns and developmental needs of individual followers; they change followers’ awareness of issues by helping them to look at old problems in a new way; and they are able to arouse, excite and inspire followers to put out extra effort to achieve group goals.

Curious to learn more? Check out our report on IC trends in 2023

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