There are thousands of studies on the importance of employee satisfaction. Looking at the overwhelming evidence, we now know that the happiness of employees affects everything from customer satisfaction to employee productivity and retention. And since the Covid-19 pandemic started, the workplace "environment" has truly become more of an experience.

Naturally, the question arises: Are there any proven effective ways to make employee satisfaction an actual, attainable objective in the new paradigm? 

Absolutely, and way too many strategies to mention in one sitting. But one idea to consider is to embrace team members for who they are, rather than what they can do for the company.

Empathy: The leadership separator

We call this empathy (the answer to the question in the title), and with empathy, a whole new world full of possibilities is opened up about how to lead employees and serve customers better.

Empathy requires the powerful practice of active listening. This brings me to a new book called Move the Needle by international speaker and best-selling author Robb Holman. Active listening is a core tenet of empathy that Holman teaches in his book. He explains that with active listening we invite ourselves into a person's story, helping them feel appreciated and valued. This helps us to better understand and empathize with someone's pain or struggle, which, these days, is necessary considering that most of us are experiencing some sort of hardship.

Acknowledge workplace grief with empathy

With hardship comes the ignored understanding of workplace grief, a rare business topic on which Holman shines the light. A study conducted by the Grief Recovery Institute found that U.S employers lose up to $75 billion each year as a result of grieving in the workplace. Grieving employees typically experience higher levels of daily stress. This can lead to poor decision-making, substance misuse, and an increased risk of injury. 

"Grieving is not just about the death of a loved one, family member, or friend," Holman explains in his book. We grieve lost opportunities, dreams we don't realize, and global pandemics. "If we want stronger relationships in the workplace, we need to be aware that people are grieving more than we know, and be empathetic to that idea."

To drive home Holman's point of expressing empathy, if we can deeply acknowledge that a team member may be grieving, chances are good that we can better serve that person for a positive business outcome.

Express empathy as an act of service

But showing empathy isn't always easy, especially when it comes to people we disagree with or don't mesh with at work. 

However, an intentional act of empathy, as Holman writes in his book, can offer a chance to enter someone else's story and even enroll them into yours. "As you demonstrate humility and presence through active understanding, you value that person. When a person feels valued, they are more receptive to feedback," he says.

What about people who are not receptive to our empathy, or our desire to relate? "I'd love to say that when you faithfully serve through empathy and sacrifice, it's all victory. However, the agony of defeat is a real thing," professes Holman in his book.

This lesson was never more apparent for Holman than when he had started a nonprofit years ago and invested in a relationship with a core team member. The two became good friends, their families became good friends, and there was a lot of time and energy devoted to their friendship and working relationship.

As the relationship grew, there were miscommunications that impacted the organization that Holman took responsibility for. He apologized publicly to his team members and assured his commitment to making sure things were not misconstrued. But something surprising occurred: This person chose not to receive Holman's apology or continue in the venture. 

This revealed something to Holman about service. There are times when you are serving others, and they will leave you. It is painful, but as long as you serve faithfully and without strings attached, you have done well. "The moment we place conditions on our service, it's only a matter of time before the relationship eludes us," assures Holman. 

In conclusion, influence through service doesn't come without its costs. But we all know that nothing good comes easy. By recognizing that many if not most people are grieving in some way, we can, with empathy and active listening, be better leaders in the workplace. And authentic empathetic service transforms and empowers a workforce.