What makes a good boss? More importantly, what separates a good boss from a great one?
It is no secret that the pandemic has thrown a spotlight on the evolving relationship between managers and their teams, in more ways than one. A leader today is expected to don many hats, namely (but not limited to) that of a communicator, a mentor, a listener, a supporter and a visionary. The challenges that hybrid work brings with it aren’t as straightforward as they seem and demand a level of empathy that directly impacts the holistic well-being of an organization. Let’s take a few minutes to understand the role that empathy plays at the workplace.
With workplace wellbeing finally taking its rightful seat at the corporate table and being recognized as a key priority, empathetic leadership tops the list of what great bosses always get right. Contrary to popular belief that empathy is an innate behaviour, it is actually a skill that can be cultivated on purpose.
The Real Impact Of An Empathetic Manager
With 67% of people reporting an increase in stress, 28% stating poor concentration levels and 54% of them experiencing emotional exhaustion, the need for workplace wellbeing programs has never been greater.
An empathetic manager never fails to put themselves in their coworker’s shoes and employ cognitive empathy techniques by asking “If I were in his/her/their position right now, what would I be thinking or how would I be feeling?” Simply checking in with your team, picking up on cues about their mental health and asking the right questions goes a long way in being an empathetic manager. Leaders are not required to be full-blown experts in mental health to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression. Instead, workshops and interventions can be the perfect tool to focus on wellbeing and physical health at the workplace. Training workshops are an excellent way to understand the nuances of workplace wellbeing and learn about ways to build resilient teams. When people across all levels of a company are taught ways to cultivate and practice empathy towards their coworkers, towards themselves and towards the world at large, it positively impacts happiness levels at work.
With Gen Z being more aware of what an ideal company’s offerings should be, they are vocal about what they want and expect from their employees. Having an empathetic manager who not only guides them when they stumble but someone who also understands their mental health requirements plays a key role in determining the work culture of a company.
The Business Case For Empathy
According to Harvard Business Review’s Global Empathy Index, the top 10 most empathetic companies (read: LinkedIn, Microsoft, Audi, Three, John Lewis Partnership, Sony, Google, Nike, Direct Line and Boots UK) generate 50% more earnings than the ones who rank at the bottom. Leaders need to acknowledge and understand that the most desirable workplaces are also the most empathetic. While there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with being focused on business growth, it’s important to take a step back and ask yourself – ‘Am I being as empathetic as I’d like to be?’
Besides accelerating employee productivity, innovation and collaboration, empathetic workplaces are also high on retention. While we’ve all experienced varying levels of discomfort ever since the pandemic began, having managers and leaders openly talk about well-being at work is a step in the right direction. ‘Normalizing the conversation’ around mental health goes beyond just creating awareness. By modelling healthy behaviours, building a culture of connection through frequent check-ins, offering flexibility, helping teams prioritize work and being available for a quick chat when they need a listening ear are ways to actually walk the talk.
The buck however doesn’t stop there. Workplace wellbeing is a two-way street and employees need to recognize their part in building a healthy relationship with their managers. There is a fine line between doing everything you can to be the boss’s favourite (nobody likes a suck up) and actually putting in the effort to enhance your working relationship. Coming up with novel ideas, solving problems, setting aside time for constructive feedback, respecting his/her schedule, talking about your short-term and long-term goals let’s your manager know that you’re invested in not just adding value to the company but maintaining a positive work ethic too.
Information sharing goes both ways and by cultivating empathy at work through thoughts, words and deeds, organizations will be well on their way to fostering a culture that truly cares.