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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Willey

Building a Culture of Care: Promoting Empathy in the Workplace

Right now as you read this, you’re feeling something. Maybe it’s approaching lunchtime and you’re feeling hungry. Or perhaps it’s been a difficult week and you’re feeling exhausted, ready for the weekend. Maybe you’re even feeling a bit anxious, or sad, or thrilled with what you’ve accomplished lately. Regardless of what you’re feeling, you’re in a position to relate to someone else who may be feeling exactly the same way. That’s what empathy is--the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions or experience of others. Another way to think about it--when you look in a mirror, you see your reflection. You can identify with the person staring back at you much as empathy allows us to relate to others because we can see part of ourselves in them. We understand. We care. We want to help because we’ve been there before to some degree.

New research shows that empathy has a direct impact on employee productivity, loyalty, and engagement. Companies are shifting their focus to the “Whole Human” workplace by helping their teams connect their “work self” with their “home self” through unique benefits that show they care about employee well-being. With all of this positive data and momentum, how else can we create a beneficial culture of care? Although establishing corporate culture starts with leadership at the top, every employee plays a role in spreading that culture because we are all a living, breathing part of it. For that reason, we’re exploring the primary ways both companies and individuals can do their part to build a business culture everyone wants to be a part of, and no one wants to leave.

1. Show interest. Your co-workers and employees are human beings with their own goals, needs and challenges. Take an interest in who they are outside of work and get to know them as people, not just "worker bees." Invest time to connect with them on a deeper level and you'll build long-term relationships of trust and respect.

2. Unite the team with purpose. Ensure that whatever the company stands for, your team stands with you. Employees can connect and make a difference both in and beyond the company if they embody its purpose every day on the job. Establish volunteer outings, explore creative ideas that promote company values and advance the mission together, so the team belongs to something bigger than themselves.

3. Listen reflexively. Listening demonstrates support. Reflexive listening is even more valuable because you are not just supporting; you are helping to problem solve. In a world where 30% of employees feel their opinions don’t matter, it’s even more important to let your colleagues talk freely and vent. Restate their concerns to validate how they feel. Ask questions that answer who/what/where/why/when so they can identify paths forward with your objective guidance. Then dig deeper with them to arrive at a solution.

4. Include, don’t exclude. Research reveals that diverse, inclusive cultures are more productive and innovative. Their employees are also more loyal, satisfied and engaged. Accept people as they are and look for ways to foster inclusivity--as you hire, as you promote, as you communicate with your team and establish new benefits/policies. When everyone feels valued and taken care of, they, in turn, will value, and care more about, each other.

5. Coach others who need support. There is no better time to demonstrate empathy and “be a coach” than when a colleague is struggling personally or professionally. A survey of executives found that about half of managers only spend 10% of their time coaching. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise then that 85% of millennials surveyed said they would feel more confident if they could have more frequent conversations with managers. If you see a co-worker or direct report who needs help, step in to coach him/her through the challenge. Help him/her assess scenarios and create an action plan to overcome the issue. Recent research indicates that giving people advice helps boost your own confidence too, so consider how a mentor role can be mutually beneficial in the long term.

6. Give comfort and demonstrate care. Demonstrating empathy shows others you care about their well-being and they are not alone. A warm hug, a follow-up note or an invitation to grab coffee/take a walk outside the office in a neutral environment gives the gift of your time and attention to others. A little extra comfort and support goes a long way toward fulfilling their emotional need.

7. Adopt a selfless vs selfish perspective. When you think beyond yourself, you are naturally more sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. You are hardwired to give back vs get more, and that selfless perspective makes it easier to identify with your co-workers or employees and relate to their challenges. You are driven to help, so others can overcome and succeed. As a result, you are a better leader (and a better friend).

8. Develop a “mindfulness plan.” Being present and getting more in touch with yourself makes it easier to be available for others when they need you most. Set aside 10 minutes a day to be more "mindful"--whether it's through meditation/focused breathing, an app like Headspace or a book like Positive Intelligence, all of these tools can help center your core so you can maintain clarity and focus throughout the day.

9. Be truthful and transparent. Always. Without exception. You may have to engage in difficult conversations, but it will build long term trust. When you are authentic and up front, others know you lack a hidden agenda and they can count on your honest leadership.

10. Extend gratitude. Publicly recognizing others for their achievements and personally extending a heartfelt thanks says that individual contributions have value to the entire organization. Employees are more willing to go above and beyond when they know their work is appreciated.

For additional tips on how to promote empathetic cultures while being fearless at work and in life, please visit Wet Cement at

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