Keeping emotions out of the workplace has been a commonly accepted behavioral norm, cited often as a ‘professional’ attitude. However, experts are coming to recognize it as unrealistic and unnatural, an expectation that creates dichotomy in an individual’s life and personality. Many current day organizations are conscientiously distancing themselves from this trend and making efforts to build an empathetic environment in the workplace.
An empathetic workplace is a place where an employee is accepted in a holistic way – as an individual with both personal and professional aspects. It is a space where personal events are shared, understood and maybe even participated in.
Research supports that organizations that have developed a culture of empathy enjoy greater collaboration, greater morale and have lesser stress. In such workplaces, employees bounce back faster from difficult situations. Higher degrees of resilience are also common to empathetic organizations.
We believe that empathy is good for our employees and our business. It is one of our organizational values and we have taken several steps to instill empathy in our organization’s culture.
Empathy rules – from the top down
Our first step was to recognize and accept the existence of a gap between the company’s defined core values, that is the behavior that is prescribed versus the norms, that is how employees actually behave. Next step was to consciously bridge the distance between the two.
It helps when you stop seeing ‘empathy’ as an inherent trait but look at it more as a skill that can be developed. We feel that empathy is a behavioral trait that will respond to its environment and can be cultivated just like other soft skills. When employees experience an empathetic response to a personal or professionally challenging situation, they will imbibe the behavior and respond to it in a similar manner.
Of course the ball is set rolling by the leadership, you cannot establish a value system in an organization unless the management is a hundred percent genuinely committed to it.
Building understanding, driving empathy
Working with global clients and geographically distributed team members does make it harder to infuse empathy into the organizational DNA. To establish visibility and enable cross functional and regional connect within teams, we have established clear and transparent processes, as well as multiple communication channels and interaction mechanisms.
We actively coach managers to build an approach of empathy. We help them understand that empathy is not about excusing poor performance, but trying to understand what might be causing it. Is a team member who has been a good performer, going through some personal challenges that may be leading to missed timelines, poor delivery or team issues? This approach can lead to timely support and prevent larger potential performance issues. We constantly emphasise on collaboration and enablement, and ensure that we walk this talk every step of the way.
Embrace the ‘mess’
We have been conditioned to think of personal issues or emotional trials as a ‘mess’. We ask our employees to be true about their situations and seek support without fear of criticism or judgment. We do not endorse the concept of penalizing an employee for unforeseen curve balls that life may throw at us. Giving people the space to share their situations and bring in their authentic selves to work is something that we embrace. Our open-door policies make sure leaders and managers are always available and accessible to all employees.
Our policies are designed to accommodate the needs of employees of today. While enabling a hybrid work environment, we consider the challenges that employees may face in their productivity and work proactively with them to find workable solutions. We have established robust change management policies to help our employees and clients adapt to today’s dynamic scenarios. The aim is to build an environment where an employee feels secure that their team and organization has ‘their back’.
Like all organizations we constantly strive hard for improved efficiency and productivity. However we have actively moved away from a work style that pits aggressive competitiveness against empathy. We believe that when we create a judgment-free environment that allows people to reach out and seek help, whether personal or professional, employees feel safe and empowered to bring their best selves to work.
Communication that is “telling it as it is”, does not need to be harsh when it is supplemented with understanding, instead it can build confidence and trust, creating an environment conducive for collaboration and progress.
Training and guidance
Enabling employees to become valuable is essential to building an organization that is collectively on a path to progress. Helping employees define growth paths or identify areas of improvement cannot be a one-time annual activity. We see it as an ongoing effort, and have regular ‘connects’ with employees to identify upskilling and reskilling training programs.
That apart, we invest in conducting regular coaching sessions for critical skills such as communication, mindfulness, collaboration, work-life balance, self-development and importance of well-being and wellness. We have observed that this has led to a smoother functioning between team members. These efforts we believe will lead to a workforce that is in a healthier mental and physical space, and consequently more productive and engaged.
A culture of communication devoid of assumptions
We believe that assumptions impact objectivity and thus strongly discourage decisions based on assumptions. As an organization on the journey to establish a workplace with empathy at its core, we promote communication. Anyday we feel an open conversation will have a better outcome, one that is best suited for all involved parties in the given situation.
We deeply resonate with the sentiment “If you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.” Developing the capability to put ourselves in others’ shoes and then walk a mile in them helps us understand another’s situation and motives. This clarity helps us become more responsive towards circumstances and become better problem solvers. In fact, this very attribute helps us become amazing at client service! Enhanced organizational outcomes then become the natural and organic consequence of having a highly engaged workforce that is centered on delivering customer delight.