How HR Can Facilitate Empathy in the Workplace

While Dwight Schrute might disagree, honesty, empathy, respect, and open-mindedness are the pillars of a workplace H.E.R.O. Empathy is often underappreciated among those four pillars, but it’s a vital trait for HR professionals and managers alike.

Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”—essentially, to imagine yourself in the particular situation of another person, and then to understand their feelings within that context.

SEE ALSO: How Microsoft Got Performance Reviews Right

There’s often a disconnect between what managers think an employee is feeling and what that employee is actually feeling. For example, one study found that employers believe a lack of work/life balance is the greatest source of stress for employees, while employees said that their actual greatest sources of stress are inadequate staffing, low pay, and unclear job expectations. This disconnect can leave employers in the dark when a top employee decides to leave for another company.

Practicing empathy can help to bridge the disconnect, build trust, and develop stronger relationships that create a healthier work environment. HR teams can set positive examples of empathy in the workplace using the following strategies:

Provides Channels for Communication

Communication is necessary for empathy. If an employee doesn’t have the means to communicate their experiences, then there’s no way for HR or managers to empathize with those experiences. Software that allows for real-time feedback from employees is a great way to open the lines of communication, while also allowing you to identify which departments or positions tend to see the most negative feedback.

Moving away from traditional, annual performance reviews to more agile performance management, including regular check-ins and 360-degree reviews, will encourage the types of conversations where managers can develop and learn how to practice empathy.

Treat All HR Claims Equally

Over the years, a perception has arisen that HR is out to protect the company, rather than the employee. You can change this perception by creating a safe space for employees to file a claim or address an issue with HR. Listening with an open mind is the first step. Don’t rush to judgment or make assumptions. Allow the employee to explain the situation, then fully investigate the complaint before making any decisions.

Employees need to know that all claims are treated equally, no matter who is involved. And they need to know that they’re not putting themselves or their jobs at risk by coming forward to HR.

Listen

We already mentioned it above, but active listening is so important to empathy that we’ll cover it again. Active listening is just that: giving a person an opportunity to say exactly what they want to say without being cut off or sidetracked. An empathetic listener will relate the person’s situation to a similar situation in their own life. Or they use their imagination to understand the person’s experience. The goal is to relate to and validate their perspective; doing so will show the person that they’re being heard and respected.

Develop a Mentorship Program

Empathy should start from the first day a new employee walks in the door. It’s never easy to be the new person, so encourage your employees to introduce themselves to new hires and invite them along to lunches during their first week.

Pairing a new employee with a mentor is a great way to promote empathy throughout the organization. Providing a new employee with someone that they can consult for advice and guidance will help them to assimilate more quickly into the company, and these types of positive relationships will go a long way towards building that H.E.R.O. culture.

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