The True Value of Empathetic Leadership

We know that leaders set the tone from the top. So when it comes to building a culture of empathy, trust and mutual respect, what example is your leadership setting?

Research shows there is a connection between empathetic leadership and employee attraction and retention. According to a 2019 Businessolver study, more than 90% of employees surveyed are more likely to stay with an empathetic employer. However, while 92% of responding CEOs say their organization is empathetic, only 72% of employees agree.

With that in mind, here are three tips for fostering empathy at your organization.

The True Value of Empathetic Leadership

1. Let your employees know they can let their guard down.

Only by “walking the talk” can leaders create a culture of trust. We’ve seen some powerful examples recently in the area of mental health.

Leaders from a wide range of organizations—from renowned Tesla CEO Elon Musk to entrepreneurs like Emma Mcilroy, CEO and co-founder of feminist fashion e-tailer Wildfang—are coming forward to share their challenges. Their goal is to reduce the stigma around mental health issues and encourage others to get help if they are struggling. Showing that vulnerability on a personal level sends the message to employees that it’s okay for them to be vulnerable, too.

2. Practice empathy in your day-to-day work interactions.

Workforce Mental Health 2021

Demonstrating empathy with friends and colleagues can help build trust. Like mindfulness or random acts of kindness, it’s something you can practice regularly. And it doesn’t have to be complicated: it can be as simple as proactively reaching out to a colleague to see how they’re doing, or ensuring you are fully present when interacting with others.

Working together on a shared project toward a common goal—particularly when there’s a diversity of backgrounds or perspectives in the group—is another great opportunity to practice empathy and understanding.

3. Ask people how they’re doing. Then ask how they’re really doing.

As the saying goes, “it’s okay not to be okay” right now. Even in a post-pandemic world, we will likely see downstream mental health impacts for many years to come.

Transparent and authentic communications are always critically important, but that’s especially true during times of challenge or change. Leaders are ideally positioned to show they understand what people are going through and provide access to support, such as health benefits, mental health resources and employee assistance programs.

Embracing empathetic leadership

If there’s one positive coming out of this pandemic, it’s that it has refocused attention on people—not just as workers, but as human beings.

Leading with empathy is a practice that gets easier and more intuitive over time, and it promotes employee retention and engagement. Taking proactive steps to bring more empathy into your workplace isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s a win-win for employers and employees alike.


Alyssa Hodder
Director, Education and Outreach – Canada

Workforce Mental Health Virtual Conference

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