It’s hard to miss the trend around empathy, especially within organizations and among leaders. People are talking about empathy, seeking to be more empathetic and making the well-justified business case for greater empathy in the future of work.
But is empathy just a blip? Could the focus on empathy be a short-term emphasis without long-term staying power? The answer: Probably not. Empathy is likely here to stay for a number of reasons—and they are important to understand in terms of their effects on people, and their effects on organizations and business. Empathy will shape the future of work in some interesting ways.
Empathy Is the Future
The Stigma of Suffering
In the last couple years, people have reported greater levels of depression, anxiety and even trouble juggling their thoughts. People’s social isolation and mental and emotional challenges have been correlated with greater distance from colleagues, connections and community. People have missed their friends and family.
But they’ve also felt stress based on enduring the ebbs and flows of the pandemic, and the shifts which have been required in everything from shopping and exercising to socializing and working. And stress continues as people adapt and endure moving forward.
The experience of stress tends to last beyond a particular stressful event, because the brain chemicals which trigger the fight or flight response take time to clear from the brain and body. The bottom line: People’s wellbeing has been challenged, and it will continue to be at risk in the future.
The good news is wellbeing issues have been brought into our global dialogue. People are talking about wellbeing, identifying challenging issues and seeking help to work through them. All of this means empathy is here to stay. People need empathy—and it’s on the collective radar screen. Going through hard times brings issues to light—and that’s what’s happening with the need for empathy.
Empathy will also shape the future because of people’s collective understanding. Trends tend to catch on when there’s a critical mass of people who share an experience. This is true because experiences affect beliefs, and beliefs drive behaviors which ultimately shape results.
No one has been immune from the challenges of the last few years, and this extends the ability to feel for others. Since empathy is fundamentally about imagining what someone must be thinking (cognitive empathy) or feeling (emotional empathy), going through tough times makes empathy easier to experience. It’s not a stretch to imagine what others are going through when you’ve been through it yourself. Empathy is boosted by shared experiences.
In addition, going through hard times together is powerful for bonding—for teams, groups and communities. And this is partially due to the empathy generated through shared experience. People are hard-wired for empathy, and caring, compassionate behaviors are evident already in toddlers. Also, when people feel a sense of connection with others, they release the feel-good brain chemical oxytocin. And this causes people to repeat the behavior over time—seeking and maintaining connections and community.
Empathy is here to stay because of the shared experiences and problems people have faced together—building the capacity for empathy, caring and compassion and paving the way for bonds to continue.
The Talent Revolution
Empathy is also here to stay because organizations are recognizing its importance to their success. New data from Monster reveals 36% of workers think about quitting their jobs—several times a week. And 24% report they are miserable in their current positions, causing them to look for a different job. With this reality, many companies are motivated to do more for employees—in order to attract new talent and keep the people they have.
Increasingly, wellbeing and support for work-life fulfillment are primary criteria for people committing (or re-committing) to employers. A Microsoft study showed 53% of people are prioritizing health and wellbeing over work, and according to Monster, 86% of people say their wellbeing is extremely important to them—with 69% saying wellbeing is more important than a high-status job and 51% placing wellbeing above a salary increase. And according to the Monster data, 41% of employees want to know their employers share in their wellbeing—and this, of course, is the demonstration of empathy.
Companies can also feel secure in knowing an investment in empathy—through developing leadership skills in empathy and through establishing policies and practices which serve employees—will pay off. The data is compelling. In fact, when leaders demonstrate empathy, people report greater mental and emotional health, as well as greater engagement, innovation and likelihood to stay with their companies.
Empathy is here to stay because organizations are recognizing their role in providing for wellbeing, and they are realizing the business benefits—and necessities—of doing so.
People are naturally empathetic, but empathy has been extended, expanded and extrapolated—based on all people have been through and experienced together.
The power of empathy is when it’s demonstrated—in asking a colleague how they’re doing, in taking compassionate action to help a friend, in leaders who express respect and care and in companies which implement empathetically meaningful policies.
All of this bodes well for a future of work in which people can express themselves fully and bring their best, because they are supported and experience a positive culture of empathy.
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