Purpose, inclusiveness, connection, and growth have been described time again as the antidotes to the uncertainty and fear felt among employees. Cultures that propagate this have given organizations a running start and advantage, while organizations new in their focus on culture are stepping up their game to evolve and transform in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Although changes in the ways of working, digital enablement, and resilient operating models have become the new reality, significant changes in employee expectations are yet to be addressed. Empathy and compassion are now considered as essential as benefits, compensation, and career progression by most employees. For example, research has indicated that 83% of employees would consider leaving their job for a more empathetic organization.
To avoid an increase in attrition an empathetical organizational outlook is crucial in the current situation fueled by the pandemic and the shortage of key talent.
Demystifying organizational empathy
Organizational empathy is moving beyond a “customer-centric” focus to prioritize on employee expectations, in recognition that this is needed to drive business success. It focuses on the capability of an organization to demonstrate empathy towards all stakeholders as well as a commitment to develop a greater understanding of the needs of everyone involved.
With employee distress – anxiety, health complications, mental health issues, financial woes ‒ at an all-time high due to the pandemic, embedding empathy in the organizational culture, interactions, and processes has become crucial. Furthermore, many employees have witnessed first-hand how their organizations have failed to provide a personalized humane approach during their hour of need.
Organizations centered on empathy continuously and effectively listen to what their employees and clients have to say, which enables them to proactively predict and solve problems while innovating. Employees who experience compassion from their leaders report higher engagement as compared to those who experience less compassion. Strategic, operational, and technical excellence are critical to achieve organizational success. However, right at the intersection of it all is the need for care, consideration, and empathy for the employees who make this possible.
Bringing empathy center-stage
Leaders across industries agree on the importance of imbibing empathy, however a substantial empathy gap still exists. An empathy gap forms when there is a difference between the apparent benefits that empathy can bring to the workplace and the ability of leaders and organizations to actually practice it. This is further compounded by the lack of global studies and interventions on embedding empathy at workplaces.
Our focus is to drive efforts to help bridge the empathy gap in organizations. Empathy ingrained at the heart of any organization is more likely to help overcome people challenges faster, contribute to positive outcomes, help outperform financially, and help in anticipating the needs of customers and employees. While organizations scurry to adapt to the new normal and the post-pandemic world of working, the Capgemini Workforce & Organization (W&O) team has put forth interventions to support organizations to reinvent the way work gets done, with the New Working Paradigm offering. At the cornerstone of helping organizations through this transition, are sensitivity and the adoption of an empathetic approach for employers to guide their employees through this change. We have proposed a four-phased approach – Discover, Design, Implement and Sustain – to assist organizations in building empathy-centered workplaces for the future.
Building a more empathetic future
Building empathy-centered organizations requires a revisionist view of how an organization and its allied factors viz. culture, leadership, processes, and policies are delineated. We have broadly outlined four organizational factors that are key to embedding empathy into those companies which choose to embark on this journey.
- Renew the cultural outlook: Reclarifying and aligning organizational values and behaviors while keeping diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) and well-being at the center of all employee decisions sets the stage for building and strengthening an empathy-centric organizational culture. The shift to newer ways of working and the hybrid model across industries could weaken the personal connection between the employer and employee; having empathy at the heart of all interactions makes it possible to positively influence employee relations and experience. Thus, empathy can act as a catalyst to reinforce company culture. Any attempt to make empathy part of the organization’s repertoire is likely to inspire employees and encourage them to champion social causes.
- Focus on diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI): Endeavors of organizations to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion as the cornerstone of everything that they do allows for better product design, customer relations, and, ultimately, better profits. A key ingredient encouraging a workplace to focus on DEI is empathy.
- Redefine policies and processes to build for sustainability: Central to instilling empathy across the lifecycle of an employee is adopting a user-centered design approach for process and policy redesign and optimization.
- Empathetic leadership: An empathetic leadership outlook will offer a compelling vision for how organizations can lead, deliver, and assist with a humane perspective to serve varying purposes. Empathetic leaders constantly challenge the status quo by adopting an approach of inquiry rather than advocacy, constantly asking relevant questions about sensitive topics to drive change.
As communities, organizations, and the world at large adapt to the new ways of working, interacting, and getting work done, we need to tap into empathy and inculcate it across the organizational culture. Companies need to embed empathy right at the heart of all business operations, as it has the power to scale businesses to new heights.
Practice Head – Workforce and Organization, Invent India
Senior Manager, Workforce & Organization
Manager, Frog Customer First
Senior Consultant, Workforce & Organization