Empathy in Human Resources Management is something that comes up often. The idea of a stern leader, who rules with an iron fist, is outdated. Today’s leaders are expected to build relationships and trust to ensure they get the most out of employees. HR has the double burden of demonstrating empathy and teaching executives to model this kind of behavior. Rarely, however, does anyone dissect what it means to be an empathetic leader.

Define Empathy

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share feelings of another. When it comes to leadership, it means to care for employees and consider their feelings. Lots of research points to the fact that empathetic leaders help lead teams to better business results, according to Forbes.

For example, Catalyst found that those with empathetic leaders are more productive and innovative. They burn out less often. They foster inclusion. Most importantly, they are less likely to leave their employers. All this is proven to give an edge to companies. After all, these factors lead to better business outcomes.

How to Be Empathetic

To be an empathetic leader is about finding one’s humanity and acting upon it. Some of it may seem obvious. Trying to understand what others are going through and facing is a great place to start. In this time of divisiveness, when leaders’ earnings are further apart from workers than ever before, this idea of relating to one another becomes paramount. Communication is a big part of this style of leadership. Here are some other best practices when striving to have empathy:

Ask people how they are doing and actively listen.

In other words, pay attention to what they say, and repeat it to ensure you understand them. Learn to stay quiet and let people share their thoughts and feelings. Then, follow up with appropriate questions. When necessary, offer ideas for problem solving or simply comfort the person. The time when people could not cry at the office are over.

Respond to the employees’ unique needs.

Part of the new leader’s goal is to develop relationships with employees. Once managers do so and understand how each person feels and what motivates them, they can take action. This could mean providing flexibility to a working mom, who is trying to do it all or providing personalized employee benefits. Perhaps, it means providing the right bonus or gift to encourage retention.

Get comfortable with feelings.

Even before the pandemic, eight in 10 people had said they cried at work, according to Monster.com and reported by various news outlets, including CNN. More than 44% of C-suite executives said crying at work is okay from time to time, and another 30% said it has no negative effect on how one is perceived at work, according to Robert Half Talent Solutions and as reported by Harvard Business Review. Emotions are running high in this post-COVID era, so people need to be comfortable with the various ways people may be feeling.

Some employees – not to mention managers – could be sad, angry, frustrated, stressed, and so on. Being more open and transparent about human feelings will make others more comfortable. It will help shed stigma, too. Obviously, if people are overly emotional, then colleagues and managers should provide them with resources and access to help with mental health and wellness. But no one should expect managers or HR professionals to serve as psychologists or even counselors. It is simply a matter of being comfortable in one’s skin.

Check in regularly. At the start of each meeting, find out what’s happening in the life of employees. The response might be about the anxiety of completing a big project, for example. Or it can simply be about what everyone has done over the weekend. By making it a habit to start meetings with this personal catch up time, empathetic leaders are building a forum for people to come to them with problems or concerns. When managers and HR professionals see signs of burnout or mental illness, then they should direct people to the appropriate help.

By Francesca Di Meglio

Originally posted on HR Exchange Network