Your team is your most important business asset. Businesses that took care of their team members during the pandemic have navigated the situation better. Now, business owners who had to let people go are worried about rebuilding the talent they once had.
Companies that focus on their employees tend to perform better in almost every way. They often are more diverse. Their team members may be happier and healthier. As a result, they’re more productive and creative. They may even deliver better service to your customers.
Fostering these positive outcomes with your team can start with ensuring your leadership team knows the value of empathy. Empathy has plenty of positives, but it can also have its downsides. Here’s how to work with empathy the right way.
The Upsides of Empathetic Leadership
Empathy means we feel other people’s emotions. It’s more than sympathy. When someone gets a big win on the sales floor, empathetic leaders are happy right alongside them. If someone struggles with a stressful situation, we may feel sad by their side.
Empathy allows us to care about our team members more. In turn, they may feel safe and secure, and they’re usually more satisfied with their jobs. This can help foster more creativity and productivity. Team members who feel supported are motivated to always bring their A-game to work.
Empathetic leadership can also foster more diverse teams, as people are encouraged to work more closely together and really understand each other. Diverse team members usually feel more supported in these environments.
The Downsides of Empathy in Leadership
One of the biggest drawbacks of empathy is that it can lead to poorer decision-making. Since empathy is often a big burst of emotion, we might be tempted to simply solve the problem for the distressed employee, but this could cause problems for other team members in turn.
An example would be allowing a team member who is caring for an elderly parent to take off as much time as they need. This could leave the rest of the team shouldering a lot of extra work and extra hours. Another team member who has a small child may feel that you’re being unfair. Now you have more problems you need to solve in a fairway.
Empathy can also fizzle out relatively fast. Although we might feel for a team member who is experiencing a tough life situation, the burst of emotion might fade before we can solve the problem. In turn, we might brush it aside in the face of lengthy to-do lists and hectic deadlines. Team members might end up feeling that we don’t actually care.
Finally, empathy can also lead to burnout. Emotions, even happy ones, can be draining. Empathizing with the entire team will eventually feel tiring and our capacity to care becomes compromised. Even if we want to be empathetic, we may find we can’t.
Empathy can sometimes harm team diversity as well, as we tend to identify with the people who are most like us. Diverse team members may feel they don’t get enough support.
How to Manage Empathy
Empathy is important, but it has to be managed the right way. Remember to set boundaries. Encourage team members to share and support each other, so empathy isn’t all up to leadership.
Encourage strategic problem-solving, even within an empathetic framework. You can express empathy and care for a team member but set up a meeting to problem-solve for the team. Don’t forget to consider all sides and remember compromise is on the table.
Finding the right balance can be difficult. Luckily, you can encode some empathy into more human policies around flexible work hours, time off, and even benefits. Talk to our team to discover how the right benefits package could help your team feel more cared for, without taxing your leadership.