Is Empathy the Key to More Productive Employees?

Feb 10, 2020 | 0 comments

What do you think are the main factors that motivate employees at work? How do you think you could get more out of your employees and reduce employee turnover rates?

You’re probably thinking along the lines of a more competitive salary or attractive bonuses. Or, maybe you believe having a strong company mission statement and brand values are more valuable to today’s workforce.

All very logical choices, but you’re wrong. A study of over 400,000 people across the US showed that the number one factor in getting people to work harder and stay with a company for longer is having a fair chance at getting a promotion.

Quick Takeaways

  • Developing a culture of fairness and empathy is the best way to raise employee engagement levels and reap the benefits.
  • The best person for the job is the one who will work for it, not always the one who has the skills and experience on paper.

The Importance of Empathetic Management

The results of the aforementioned survey are quite startling. Employees who believe that promotions are managed effectively at their company are more than twice as likely to put in extra effort at work and plan to stay with the company for the long term. They’re also five times more likely to believe that their managers and leaders act with integrity.

When employees believe that promotions and other recognition are given fairly, they work harder, become more productive, are less likely to leave to work for a competitor, and generally invest more of themselves into the company.

It’s clear that to get the very best out of your employees, you must prioritize a culture of fairness. But, what exactly does being “fair” mean in the cutthroat business world?

It means rewarding those that are actually putting in the work, showing innovation, and behaving with ethics and integrity, not just the people who have worked at the company for the longest or those who are clawing their way to the top with underhand tactics.

When employees see that those who deserve recognition are getting it, they’re more likely to follow suit. Conversely, if they know that the only way to get a promotion is to be at the company for a certain number of years, they’re not going to put in the effort when it’s clear that they just need to put in the time.

For some managers, this will require a fundamental shift in how they hand out promotions. It means not necessarily handing them out to those who fit the bill on paper, but rather to those that have demonstrated they want the job and are willing to work for it.

Ultimately, this means managing your people with empathy. When you really understand the effort that an individual has put and how they would feel if they were passed over for promotion in favor of someone who simply has the seniority or social connections to get ahead.

In the children’s movie Peter Rabbit, Harrods employee Thomas McGregor is eagerly awaiting a promotion after years of going above and beyond the call of duty and paying meticulous attention to running his department. When he learns that the promotion he’s been working toward for the last ten years has gone to a sloppy, work-shy employee who happens to be the nephew of the managing director, he snaps and goes on a rampage smashing up the store.

Your employees’ response to unfair promotions might not be so dramatic or so humorous, but it will almost certainly be as damaging to their trust and opinions of leadership. If this happens on a regular basis, it will soon build to a toxic working environment with employees who are unmotivated and unengaged.

Why Championing Employee Ideas Is Vital for a Culture of Empathy and Fairness

So, how do you show your employees that you understand their effort and feelings and that you’re on their side beyond handing out promotions?

Showing your employees that their input matters goes beyond listening to what they have to say and having an open door policy.

Making sure your employees feel comfortable talking to their leaders about their ideas at work is only the first step in fostering great employee-manager relationships. If your manager smiles and seems encouraging when you bring up a new idea but then never does anything with it, you’ll quickly learn that your ideas and opinions at work don’t really matter.

In Mean People Suck, I tell the story of junior consultant at LEGO, Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, and how he rose to become the first non-family CEO of the company in just three years.

Jorgen had some big ideas for LEGO, and those ideas would go on to reinvigorate the company, rescuing it from a downward spiral. But, LEGO’s success is not purely due to Jorgen but also to his superiors and leadership team who recognized the value of his ideas and championed them despite his lack of experience.

This story is just one of many I cover in-depth in the book that demonstrate how empathy is the key to getting the best out of your people. In fact, supporting your employees and championing their ideas is your most important job as a leader.

By actively encouraging and activating your most driven, skilled, and innovative employees to come up with solutions for your company’s biggest challenges, they not only feel valued and happier at work, but your businesses also benefits in terms of higher productivity, better employee engagement, and a passionate working culture.

It isn’t easy to turn around a negative business culture into a thriving and positive one, but it is possible when the effort is driven from the top down. This starts with leaders learning to be more empathetic with their employees and focusing on the company’s people instead of its profits. Make no mistake ­– the profits will come from this approach and with a whole lot more benefits, too.

So what do you think? Please consider picking up your copy of Mean People Suck today, and get the bonus visual companion guide as well. Or check out our services to help evolve your culture. And I would be thrilled to come present to your team on the power of empathy. Get in touch with me today!


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