Lacking empathy doesn't just hurt company culture, and it's definitely about more than "just feelings." Ask technology and business writer Shea Drake, who witnessed such an extreme lack of empathy from a former company's vice president that the organization lost just under $1 million.
"I approached him [my boss], as my three employees had brought up that they loved their jobs, but they may need to leave for higher paying positions elsewhere," Drake explained.
Drake's transparency was met with an ultimatum: accept no raises or leave. After a lack of empathy from the VP, Drake's entire team put in their two weeks notice.
"He was left to hire and train an entire team during the fourth quarter of 2014. We had made $1 million in the fourth quarter of 2013, and I was told they made just $90 thousand during the fourth quarter of 2014 after the team left," Drake continued.
Unfortunately, this lack of empathy isn't uncommon. Rae Shanahan, chief strategy officer at Businessolver, a benefits technology company, recently launched her company's Workplace Empathy Monitor report. The report found 80 percent of employees believe the current state of empathy in U.S. organizations needs to evolve, while only 57 percent of CEOs agree.
Here are three examples of times business leaders lacked empathy:
1. In performance management situations.
Derrick Mains, founder of AMP Business Systems, a management operating system, considered himself an effective manager because of his unempathetic nature. However, his lack of empathy caused him to almost lose one of his best employees during a performance misunderstanding.
During his time as president of a recycling company, Mains had a top performer who served as an inspiration to other team members. When this employee began frequently missing goals with no explanation, Mains decided to let him go.
But before this happened, Mains dug deeper into the situation. After finally opening up about deep personal problems, Mains saw the performance management issue in a new light.
"Here was my best performer, and I am sitting there -- paperwork ready -- planning to fire him, and I realize my lack of empathy is the real issue," he said.
What Mains took the time to do is exactly what Mike Seidle, co-founder of WorkHere, a mobile and web job search app, suggests when it comes to empathy at work.
"Take time to talk to people and hear their stories, know who the people who are important in their lives are, and most importantly, learn what people's goals in life are outside work," Seidle suggests.
2. When it needs to be genuine.
Getting wrapped up in your busy schedule and pretending to be empathetic doesn't actually count as empathy at all. Chris Powell, CEO of Talmetrix, an employee feedback and insights company, was hit with this realization when he was the head of HR at Scripps.
"I was focused on getting to the root of the problem and was discussing it with a colleague when he said back to me, 'Chris, we only have to appear to care.' At that point in time, I realized I hired the wrong person," Powell said.
It was at this moment that he realized the true reason they were receiving feedback about a lack of engagement.
"You can't fake empathy; if you don't care about your employees, they won't care about you," he continued.
By definition, empathy can't be disingenuous because you need to share and understand someone else's feelings. However, for some people, this soft skill doesn't come naturally. Just like anything else in business, your team needs training on empathy. Bring in an expert, set up seminars, or use Ignite 360's Empathy Camp to help unite your team.
3. When employees need freedom.
When it comes to an outright lack of empathy from company leaders, Karen Siff Exkorn, founder and CEO of KAS Consulting and Speak On, companies specializing in corporate training programs and executive coaching, has seen it all.
"Upon entering the conference room, the president sat at the head of the table, while his 10 top executives sat around a conference table. One by one, each participant offered up an idea. The president was growing visibly agitated, but remained silent," Exkorn explained.
It was then that she said he reached under the table, took off his shoe, and threw it at a participant.
This obvious lack of empathy -- and abuse, quite frankly -- discouraged participants from providing suggestions at future meetings. In the end, it cost the company key players to none other than their competitors.
Give yourself a moment to shut down all the external noise happening in your busy mind. Don't simply offer employees the freedom to express their opinions. Instead, truly listen to them and find out where they're coming from.