Encouraging Empathy in The Workplace

How Exposure to Different Experiences Fosters Understanding and Cooperation at Work

Encouraging empathy in the workplace can positively influence the people who work within its community. While the work that goes on at your organization is crucial, it is just as important to practice inclusivity and provide your employees with opportunities to share their unique points of view, cultures, backgrounds, and upbringings. Creating a space where employees feel accepted will have a positive affect on their mental health and performance, resulting in overall growth.


Empathy is having the ability to understand someone else’s feelings even though you might not necessarily feel the same way. Putting yourself in someone else's shoes when interacting with those around you is a great way to practice empathy. Places of work are filled with individuals of all different cultures and backgrounds and with diverse life experiences and points of view. With that being said, empathy is essential for work environments because it allows colleagues to understand one another and become a cohesive group.

Many times empathy is confused with sympathy. Sympathy is when you share mutual feelings with another person. You may find it to be easier to relate to those who you share things in common with so being empathetic is a great characteristic to have when you come across a situation when you can’t relate to what another person is going through. Both sympathy and empathy are very important; however, empathy is more productive in the workplace than sympathy.

developing cultural empathy in the workplace.

Cultural Empathy

Cultural empathy is the ability to have an appreciation and consideration of another individual’s culture in comparison to one's own. Those who have cultural empathy can tolerate the differences of other cultures and are able to understand individuals from other backgrounds on a deeper level.

For example, coming together as a workplace to celebrate and learn about other holidays and religious celebrations can be an example of cultural empathy. Businesses and organizations can make a point to celebrate or acknowledge important holidays and give their teams the opportunity to see their cultures celebrated.

Cultural empathy translates to more than just inclusive holidays. Offering a quiet space for Muslim employees to pray and understanding that they are not shirking job responsibilities if they are using time to pray is another example of cultural empathy.

Get a More Inclusive Workplace Culture

Achieving an inclusive workplace culture starts with the organization’s leadership. Leaders have the power to frequently expose their employees to other cultures, implement core values that employees must work under, and create opportunities for employees to better understand one another.

Having an inclusive workplace does not happen overnight. People must practice empathy and work to gain a better understanding of their colleagues on a daily basis. The friends we make and actions we take to become more involved make for a more enjoyable work environment.

Frequent Exposure to People of Other Cultures

Frequent exposure to other cultures allows us to better understand the people we interact with. Organizations who create opportunities for employees to share their unique perspectives find their colleagues have better interactions with one another and form a greater understanding when differences of opinion are present. Whether it be a client or colleague, we can gain empathy from people through storytelling or taking the time to learn more about them through casual conversation.

The more exposed we are to other cultures, the more cultural empathy we develop.

Socioeconomic status plays a large role in cultural empathy. Often, a dominant status is not empathetic to a lesser status. It is important as an authority figure that you lead by example. Leaders should present their employees with ways to develop cultural empathy. Travel isn’t the only way to gain exposure to other cultures. Recommending documentaries, academic articles, books, or simply asking questions are all great ways to learn and educate yourself.

Storytelling Skills

Storytelling has the ability to portray emotions. With the use of sensory details and images, storytelling captures the attention of others and can lead them through emotional experiences.

Stories come in all forms and fashions. Jokes, metaphors, anecdotes, and archetypes are common ways we tell stories in conversation and increase understanding between the speaker and listener. Psychonomic Society’s research references philosopher Ted Cohen’s knowledge on how we use metaphors in language. Cohen explains, “… there is a unique way in which the maker and the appreciator of a metaphor are drawn closer to one another.” The speaker is thought to issue “a kind of concealed invitation” to which the listener responds with “a special effort to accept the invitation.” This interactive process creates common ground and a shared understanding.”

Inclusive Practices

Leaders in the workplace have the ability to create an inclusive work atmosphere and be role models to those who work for them. The Center for Creative Leadership explains, “Empathy can be learned. If given enough time and support, leaders can develop and enhance their empathy skills through coaching, training, or developmental opportunities and initiatives. During inclusive practices employees learn to be sensitive to other’s differences, appreciate other cultures, and understand their colleagues on a more personal level.”

Employees feel more safe and accepted in an environment where their colleagues and bosses are empathetic. They are more likely to speak up or share their ideas, knowing that their voice will be heard. Implementing resources and training programs into a cooperation allows each employee to grow and practice important skills that are needed when trying to achieve an inclusive workplace.

Leaders with Empathetic and Inclusive Work Environments

Empathy and inclusivity affect our mental health and work performance. Our work performance can be a reflection of the state of our mental health. Employees who are involved in a work culture where self-care is a priority find their job enjoyable and are more involved.

The Center for Creative Leadership also states, “Effective empathy and inclusion in the workplace can change the game, shifting mediocre performance to a vibrant work culture that fosters the willingness of employees to invest discretionary effort and gain a sense of belonging. With increased levels of inclusion, all employees can experience enhanced curiosity, agility, and innovation – especially employees who are underrepresented and disadvantaged.

Mental Health

Your employee’s mental health should be taken very seriously. Although work can be fun, it also gets hectic and stressful. It’s important to create a work environment that has a positive influence on all your employees and flexibility for those who need to step back and take a break. analyzed statistics from the National Alliance of Mental Illness and found “each year, one in five adults in the U.S. will experience mental illness. Yet only one in three who need help will get it. As a result, many people will either miss work or will get less done on the job."

As a leader, having empathy is important when understanding why employees may need a break. Workplace values should clearly state the well-being of the employees is a top priority. Make known that it is acceptable to have a life outside of work.

Workplace Performance

Supporting the mental health of your employees benefits work performance. Listening and trying to understand your employees needs, wants, and concerns is a great example of practicing empathy in your workplace.

The Mind Share Partners' 2019 Mental Health at Work Report discovered, “60% of respondents reported symptoms of a mental health condition in the past year, 20% of respondents had willingly left a previous role for mental health reasons, and people are 2x more likely to be willing to give support for a colleague's mental health than ever talk about their own challenges.”

Creating opportunities for employees to share their challenges can spark conversation and lead towards brainstorming ways to resolve the obstacles being faced. Being empathetic and respectful when a colleague shares their struggles is crucial to gaining their trust and can be an example of how your work environment is a safe space. Once employees feel that the workplace is inclusive and accommodating to their needs, you will it’s positive influence on their work.

Benefits From Having an Inclusive Workplace

Other than creating a safe atmosphere where employees feel welcome, understood and accepted, there are other benefits to having empathetic work environments. When people practice empathy in the workplace, employees respond positively and it shows in their work. The Denver Foundation’s Inclusiveness Project reports that being inclusive creates “higher job satisfaction, lower turnover, higher productivity, higher employee morale, improved problem solving throughout the organization, increased creativity and innovation, increased organizational flexibility and ability to learn from people at all levels, improved quality of personnel through better recruitment and retention, and decreased vulnerability to legal challenges.”

Ohio University did a study on The Benefits of Happy Employees. Results showed that the corporations with happy employees grew the fastest and the most accommodating corporations were the most secure. Accommodating the needs of your employees is a way of showing empathy. Whether a worker needs a mental health break, family care assistance, or time away to grieve a death in their family, it is important to make employees aware that their well-being comes first.

The same study also reports, “No matter the size of the business, creating stronger engagement among employees and with their superiors will create a happier, faster growing, and more productive workplace.” Being an authority figure, you have power to change the dynamic of the relationships you have with your employees. Leaders who are engaged and listen to the needs of their workers experience positive effects and growth on many levels.

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iPondr@Work is a science-based DEI content solution to foster empathy and belonging in your workplace. We believe encouraging empathy in the workplace positively influences the people who work within its community. It’s important to make inclusivity and belonging a core value in your organization. Frequently exposing your employees to difference and otherness fosters empathy and creates a culture of belonging. Your work environment should have a positive effect on employees and make them feel accepted. The mental health of your employees is just as important as the work they produce. Growing as individuals results in growing as an organization. Build a kinder workplace culture and request a demo today on iPondr@Work’s website.

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