Empa­thy in Human Resources Man­age­ment is some­thing that comes up often. The idea of a stern leader, who rules with an iron fist, is out­dat­ed. Today’s lead­ers are expect­ed to build rela­tion­ships and trust to ensure they get the most out of employ­ees. HR has the dou­ble bur­den of demon­strat­ing empa­thy and teach­ing exec­u­tives to mod­el this kind of behav­ior. Rarely, how­ev­er, does any­one dis­sect what it means to be an empa­thet­ic leader.

Define Empathy

Empa­thy is defined as the abil­i­ty to under­stand and share feel­ings of anoth­er. When it comes to lead­er­ship, it means to care for employ­ees and con­sid­er their feel­ings. Lots of research points to the fact that empa­thet­ic lead­ers help lead teams to bet­ter busi­ness results, accord­ing to Forbes.

For exam­ple, Cat­a­lyst found that those with empa­thet­ic lead­ers are more pro­duc­tive and inno­v­a­tive. They burn out less often. They fos­ter inclu­sion. Most impor­tant­ly, they are less like­ly to leave their employ­ers. All this is proven to give an edge to com­pa­nies. After all, these fac­tors lead to bet­ter busi­ness outcomes.

How to Be Empathetic

To be an empa­thet­ic leader is about find­ing one’s human­i­ty and act­ing upon it. Some of it may seem obvi­ous. Try­ing to under­stand what oth­ers are going through and fac­ing is a great place to start. In this time of divi­sive­ness, when lead­ers’ earn­ings are fur­ther apart from work­ers than ever before, this idea of relat­ing to one anoth­er becomes para­mount. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is a big part of this style of lead­er­ship. Here are some oth­er best prac­tices when striv­ing to have empathy:

Ask people how they are doing and actively listen.

In oth­er words, pay atten­tion to what they say, and repeat it to ensure you under­stand them. Learn to stay qui­et and let peo­ple share their thoughts and feel­ings. Then, fol­low up with appro­pri­ate ques­tions. When nec­es­sary, offer ideas for prob­lem solv­ing or sim­ply com­fort the per­son. The time when peo­ple could not cry at the office are over.

Respond to the employees’ unique needs.

Part of the new lead­er’s goal is to devel­op rela­tion­ships with employ­ees. Once man­agers do so and under­stand how each per­son feels and what moti­vates them, they can take action. This could mean pro­vid­ing flex­i­bil­i­ty to a work­ing mom, who is try­ing to do it all or pro­vid­ing per­son­al­ized employ­ee ben­e­fits. Per­haps, it means pro­vid­ing the right bonus or gift to encour­age retention.

Get comfortable with feelings.

Even before the pan­dem­ic, eight in 10 peo­ple had said they cried at work, accord­ing to Monster.com and report­ed by var­i­ous news out­lets, includ­ing CNN. More than 44% of C‑suite exec­u­tives said cry­ing at work is okay from time to time, and anoth­er 30% said it has no neg­a­tive effect on how one is per­ceived at work, accord­ing to Robert Half Tal­ent Solu­tions and as report­ed by Har­vard Busi­ness Review. Emo­tions are run­ning high in this post-COVID era, so peo­ple need to be com­fort­able with the var­i­ous ways peo­ple may be feeling.

Some employ­ees — not to men­tion man­agers — could be sad, angry, frus­trat­ed, stressed, and so on. Being more open and trans­par­ent about human feel­ings will make oth­ers more com­fort­able. It will help shed stig­ma, too. Obvi­ous­ly, if peo­ple are over­ly emo­tion­al, then col­leagues and man­agers should pro­vide them with resources and access to help with men­tal health and well­ness. But no one should expect man­agers or HR pro­fes­sion­als to serve as psy­chol­o­gists or even coun­selors. It is sim­ply a mat­ter of being com­fort­able in one’s skin.

Check in reg­u­lar­ly. At the start of each meet­ing, find out what’s hap­pen­ing in the life of employ­ees. The response might be about the anx­i­ety of com­plet­ing a big project, for exam­ple. Or it can sim­ply be about what every­one has done over the week­end. By mak­ing it a habit to start meet­ings with this per­son­al catch up time, empa­thet­ic lead­ers are build­ing a forum for peo­ple to come to them with prob­lems or con­cerns. When man­agers and HR pro­fes­sion­als see signs of burnout or men­tal ill­ness, then they should direct peo­ple to the appro­pri­ate help.

By Francesca Di Meglio

Orig­i­nal­ly post­ed on HR Exchange Network