Recently there was an article in The New York Times about how therapy-related words and phrases have become widely used in the dating world. Based on the number of articles and LinkedIn posts I have seen lately, I think “therapy-speak” is also the new bright shiny object in the business world.
Mental health, emotional intelligence, human-centred leadership, authenticity, empathy…article after article, report after report, have all used these buzzwords to say the same thing: employee engagement is at an all-time low and companies and managers need to be more empathetic in order to improve retention and morale.
Do employees really want empathy from the companies they work for? Or has empathy just become another catch-all business buzzword?
The problem with buzzwords is they sound great but are usually meaningless if there is not a consistent, widely-agreed upon definition and when they don’t lead to actual strategic implementation and follow-through.
Empathy is not a band-aid that can be used to instantly improve employee engagement. It starts by establishing the expectation that everyone in the organisation will demonstrate fundamental core values in an authentic way.
Empathy is not a band-aid that can be used to instantly improve employee engagement.
It is as simple as the Golden Rule: treat others as you would like others to treat you. And this can start with:
Respect:workplace incivility is rising, and that has a direct negative impact on employees’ performance and productivity. When gone unchecked, it can also inhibit cross-functional collaboration and lead to deteriorated customer experiences. All employees, including leadership, should be held accountable to the same levels of demonstrating mutual respect.
Trust: There is the ongoing debate about the need for everyone to return to the office. Part of the discussion seems to be an underlying current of distrust that employees are not as productive or accountable when they are not in the office.
Employees should be trusted to know what their roles and responsibilities are, and what they need to do in order to meet the objectives they’ve been given. Until they have proven they are incapable or unwilling to do that job, they should be given the freedom and autonomy to work wherever and however they want.
Appreciation: employees want to be recognized for their commitment, skills, and achievements. They should be valued for who they are, what they bring to the organisation, and the work they do. Financial recognition of a job well done is always motivating, but a simple email expressing thanks or some kind words of acknowledgment in a team meeting can also go a long way.
Transparency: Everyone is fully aware of the financial challenges companies are facing today and the numerous rounds of layoffs as a result across all business sectors. With that has also come a lot of news of how poorly employees have been treated during those events – waking up to find out their email and network access has been turned off, reading about it in the news or on LinkedIn before hearing it directly from their managers, severance packages being a lot less than what was originally promised.
This lack of transparency can have a negative impact on remaining employees: engagement and productivity will decline, and loyalty and trust in the organisation will erode.
If organisations are truly committed to improving employee morale and retention, they must move past the empathy “quick fix,” establish clear expectations of employee behaviours, and make a long-term investment in the development of everyone’s (not just leadership’s) interpersonal skills.