8 Tips to Help Employers Build Their Empathy Muscle

Top employers know: The value of empathy in the workplace can’t be overstated.

However, a recent study has shown that the empathy gap is bigger than ever. Only 66% of employees surveyed in 2023 believe they worked in an empathetic workplace, a significant drop from the 78% recorded in 2018.

As this gap continues to grow, many organizational leaders are left wondering how they can provide the type of empathetic workplace that employees expect from them. Fortunately, just like a muscle, empathy is something that can be developed with proper training and attention.

Here are 8 tips employers can use right away to help develop their empathy muscle, an important step in creating a happier, healthier, and more productive workplace culture.

1. Put yourself in your employees’ shoes

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. To do that, you need to be able to see things from another person’s perspective. While you will never truly be able to understand the real lived experience of one of your employees, making the attempt will help you better understand their vantage point in any given situation.

2. Involve employees in decision making

The feeling of making meaningful contributions at work is critical to employee satisfaction.

Inviting employees to contribute to higher level decision making—however small—is an invitation for their perspective to be heard. This participation may look like scheduled brainstorming, an employee survey, or a simple solicitation of ideas through email. Whatever form it takes, it sends a signal to employees that you care about their opinion. The input you receive will help you understand where they’re coming from, sharpening your empathy muscle in return.

3. Institute an open-door policy

Shrinking the gap between the empathy that employees want and the amount their employers offer requires open lines of communication. How can you develop empathy for someone if you aren’t willing to communicate with them?

Offering an open-door policy to employees is a sign that you care. Encourage them to come to you with their concerns, ideas, and triumphs. These are the things that make us human, and that will help you develop empathy for the people who keep your organization functioning.

4. Ask questions to understand when resolving conflict

Employee conflict is inevitable. Some situations are easily resolved, others take more effort to unpack. In either case, asking questions about the challenges your employees face will help you understand the root of the issue, and show them that you genuinely care about whatever they’re going through. Humans have an inherent desire to be understood, and asking questions is one of the best ways to accomplish that.

5. Hone your listening skills

Listening is an empathy skill for leaders that often goes underappreciated. In addition to asking questions, effective listening requires attention to your eye contact, body language, and communication style.

Good, empathetic listeners maintain eye contact with those they’re talking to. They’re also mindful of their body language, making sure to maintain good posture, avoid crossing their arms, and mirroring the shape of whoever they’re listening to. Finally, adept listeners will also effectively summarize back what they heard to ensure comprehension.

6. Review your hiring process

What are you doing to ensure you’re hiring empathetic employees? Ultimately, workplace culture is influenced by individuals and created by the collective. Adding questions into your hiring process to learn how potential employees show empathy will help you hire the most caring and understanding candidates. Overtime, a more empathetic workforce will lead to a healthier workplace culture.

7. Be mindful of your biases

Our inherent biases influence every decision we make. Part of developing your empathy muscle is about learning from people who are different from you. It’s better to respectfully ask than to flippantly assume.

Before communicating with an employee at work, ask yourself: Am I being sensitive to their race, gender, sexuality, religion, or ability? If you’re unsure, it’s ok to ask!

8. Recognize what happens outside of work affects how people show up

Employees can carry with them the stress they experience outside of work to their 9-5, leading to presenteeism and decreased performance. This can be especially true among remote workers, who may find it harder to draw the line between work life and home life.

Developing empathy as an employer means recognizing that employees need support even outside of time at work. One of the best ways to fulfill that need is by offering a confidential and comprehensive solution like Carebridge EAP. Carebridge supports employees with a range of topics, including mental health, work-life services, legal guidance, addiction counseling and much more.

Empathy in the Workplace Starts with Leadership

Ready to learn more about how Carebridge EAP can help close the empathy gap? Empathetic leadership begins by showing your commitment to helping employees grow personally and professionally. Connect with a member of our team today to take the first important step in supporting your employees.