Empathic Leaders Drive Employee Engagement and Innovation (Media Release)September 14, 2021
New York, New York, September 14, 2021 — As employers grapple with what has been called the “Great Resignation,” new research from Catalyst, the global nonprofit focused on building workplaces that work for women, demonstrates that company leaders who show empathy help drive employee engagement and innovation, and, specifically for women of color, help reduce intent to leave and burnout.
Empathic leaders have been critical in helping employees adjust to shifting life-work obligations and cope with the stress of the ongoing pandemic. According to the study, empathy is a business imperative for companies and leaders in the future of work.
Catalyst surveyed nearly 900 US employees working across industries to understand the effects of empathic leadership (in senior leaders and direct managers) on their experiences at work—especially in times of crisis. Employees with highly empathic senior leaders report higher levels of creativity (61%) and engagement (76%) than those with less empathic senior leaders (13% and 32%, respectively).
This study defines an empathic leader as one who demonstrates care, concern, and understanding for employees’ life circumstances, particularly in the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Author Tara Van Bommel, PhD, notes that “This study’s focus on the business benefits of empathic leadership is more important than ever—especially in light of a pandemic and the ‘Great Resignation.’ Empathic leaders understand that empathy is not just a ‘nice-to-have’ or ‘feel-good’ quality. It is an essential skill that is immensely valuable in the future of work. The ability to connect deeply and understand unique perspectives and experiences is a skill that is not automatable and helps people navigate the uncertainty and disruption to come.”
Additional findings reveal:
- Empathic leaders (managers and senior leaders) respect employee life circumstances, support both life and work needs, and foster inclusion, compared to less empathic leaders.
- Women of color with highly empathic senior leaders were less likely to report high levels of general workplace burnout than those with less empathic senior leaders.
- Women of color with highly empathic senior leaders were less likely to report intending to leave their organization than those with less empathic senior leaders.
- Women (across race and ethnicity) with highly empathic managers were less likely to report high levels of Covid-19-related workplace burnout than those with less empathic managers.
The study also emphasizes that empathy is a skill that anyone can build and recommends investing in empathy training for leaders. Further, it outlines some actions leaders can take to be empathic in their interactions to ultimately create a more innovative, engaged, and inclusive company culture:
- Imagining how a colleague is feeling from their unique perspective;
- Communicating similar emotions, such as concern, that a colleague does;
- Demonstrating active listening and a desire to understand more about colleagues’ feelings, experiences, or reactions.
“Empathy is a critical skill to successfully develop a connection and encourage collaboration in hybrid and remote workplaces,” said Catalyst President & CEO Lorraine Hariton. “This research provides a roadmap for senior leaders to reduce turnover and best position an organization and their employees for success through the pandemic and beyond.”
Learn more and read the report here.
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Catalyst is a global nonprofit supported by many of the world’s most powerful CEOs and leading companies to help build workplaces that work for women. Founded in 1962, Catalyst drives change with preeminent thought leadership, actionable solutions, and a galvanized community of multinational corporations to accelerate and advance women into leadership—because progress for women is progress for everyone.
Naomi R. Patton
Vice President, Global Communications
US Communications Consultant
Canada Communications Consultant
EMEA Communications Consultant