Ninety percent of U.S. workers believe empathetic leadership leads to higher job satisfaction and 79 percent agree that it decreases employee turnover, according to the new "Empathy in Business" survey from EY.
In fact, 54 percent and 49 percent, respectively, report having actually quit their jobs because their boss wasn't empathetic to their struggles at work or in their personal lives.
"Empathy used to be an overlooked and underestimated trait in leadership. And if the events of the last two years have taught us anything, it's how valuable empathy is in cultivating employee and client relationships," said Marcelo Bartholo, EY Americas' deputy vice chair of consulting.
This makes empathy an especially crucial skill for today's leaders during the Great Resignation. For forward-thinking leaders looking to adopt a more empathetic approach, and help make their company stand out as a destination for top talent, here are some useful insights from the EY survey.
Walk the Walk
Empathy isn't about being nice. It's about valuing people and, according to the survey, you must be authentic. Almost half of employees surveyed feel their company's efforts to be empathetic are dishonest. And 2 in 5 say their company doesn't follow through when it makes promises.
Furthermore, according to another recent survey from EY, called the "Gen Z Segmentation" study, authenticity is paramount for Gen Z, with 92 percent indicating being authentic and true to oneself is extremely or very important. In other words, this rising generation wants to be comfortable bringing their full selves to work.
So what makes a leader genuinely empathetic?
- Being open and transparent (41 percent).
- Being fair (37 percent).
- Following through on actions (37 percent).
- Encouraging others to share their opinions (36 percent).
- Being trusted to handle difficult conversations (34 percent).
These floated to the top as the top five qualities that employees say they look for in an empathetic senior leader.
Reap the Benefits
According to respondents, there are enormous tangible benefits to empathetic leadership--beyond improving employee satisfaction and decreasing turnover rates. And they cannot be ignored. These include:
- Increases in efficiency (87 percent).
- Creativity (87 percent).
- Innovation (86 percent).
- Company revenue (81 percent).
- Increase in productivity among employees (85 percent).
As we continue to navigate the personal and professional challenges of the pandemic, there are lots of opportunities for leaders to leverage empathy to connect with employees, and have important and transparent conversations.
While more than 8 in 10 employees say it's important for organizations to cultivate a climate in which diverse perspectives are valued, about a third are not comfortable advocating for cultural changes within their organization. And 1 in 4 don't feel comfortable raising ethical concerns--meaning leadership can make a big impact by making it safe to speak up.
Leaders can also make a difference by delivering on the kinds of communication employees are craving. For example, employees report wanting to:
- Have regularly scheduled one-on-ones (45 percent).
- Have chances to give anonymous feedback (42 percent).
- Participate in team-building exercises (37 percent).
- Receive frequent reminders they're in a safe space to have open discussions (36 percent).
- Participate in training workshops about having open discussions (36 percent).
Leading with empathy makes a difference for all employees, but may be particularly valuable when engaging with those newest to the workforce. The "Gen Z Segmentation" study found 63 percent of Gen Z place importance on working for an employer who shares their values, meaning employers who better understand Gen Z are more likely to resonate with these employees.
The good news
For leaders, taking an empathetic approach comes down to putting yourself in someone else's shoes. This means listening to their needs, respecting them enough to have honest, and sometimes difficult, conversations. And personalizing the actions you're going to take to help them achieve their personal and professional goals. By tapping into our humanity in an environment where so many of us show up wearing a mask (no, not the Covid type), we can all unlock loyalty and find success.