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Lead Your Team Managing

Want Your Employees to Work Harder? Show a Little Empathy

Want Your Employees to Work Harder? Show a Little Empathy
Credit: AnirutKhattirat/Shutterstock

Empathizing with your employees could be what your business needs to be more successful, a new study suggests.

Research from Businessolver, a supplier of employee benefits services, revealed that employees are more likely to want to work for an employer whose leaders understand their employees' feelings. Moreover, employees will also work harder for those organizations, the study found.

Specifically, 56 percent of the employees surveyed said they are more likely to stay with a company whose management empathized with their needs, and 35 percent said they would switch companies, for equal pay, to an employer that was more empathetic. In addition, 40 percent of employees said they would be willing to work longer hours for an empathetic employer.

"In an enterprise where empathy is a priority, people will extend themselves beyond their normal limits, become more intensely loyal and want to join the company’s mission as employees and even be net promoters to customers," the study's authors wrote.

The problem, however, is that many company leaders are overestimating their ability to understand their employees' feelings: 60 percent of CEOs view their organization as empathetic, compared with less than one-quarter of employees. Additionally, 31 percent of employees believe organizations care about profits much more than their workers. [See Related Story: CEO Communication Gap: More Info, Less Criticism, Please]

"The report detects a yawning gap between CEOs and their employees relative to empathy," Jon Shanahan, CEO of Businessolver, said in a statement.

A large portion of the survey respondents — 46 percent — said their company leaders should set the tone in making their organizations more empathetic.

Three of the top five most important empathy-related behaviors for companies, according to employees, relate directly to the treatment of employees:

  1. Treating employees well
  2. Listening to customer needs and feedback
  3. Having ethical business practices
  4. Caring about employees' mental health
  5. Caring about employees' physical health

The researchers advised businesses to do a better job of coaching their managers on how to display more empathetic behaviors. The study found that the top three behaviors that demonstrate empathy in the workplace are listening more than talking, being patient and making time to talk one-on–one with each employee.

"Various research programs have begun to show that empathy is an integral component to the workplace and gravely impacts a company's bottom line," said Adam Waytz, an associate professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. "The findings in this study support the existing research and provide affirmation that people care deeply about empathy in the workplace."

The study was based on surveys of 1,730 U.S. adults, including 165 CEOs of companies with more than 100 employees, 100 human resources professionals and 740 full-time employees who were not CEOs or HR professionals.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.