Empathy in the Workplace - A Key to Success
Kenwood Management Company services nearly 200 tenants and over 1000 people in our commercial real estate portfolio every day. From medical to financial services to tech companies, they all have specific needs and expectations. Inevitably, something occurs that impacts them, and they contact us. Sometimes, it’s too hot or cold; other times, it’s a water leak or a trash can that wasn’t emptied the night before.
Whatever issues present, we see everyone as an opportunity to let each tenant know they are heard, understood, and important to us. To be effective in our responses, the most important emotion we utilize is empathy.
Empathy enables us to establish a connection with our customers. But, more importantly, we understand that when used sincerely and genuinely, it can take a difficult situation and create an opportunity to turn it around and transform the unhappy employee or customer into a promoter of your business. So, whether you work in customer service or are a leader supervising staff members, your ability to be empathic can be the key to success.
Stress in the “Remote” Workplace
Some thought that our new “hybrid” work model would help employees feel less stress because their commutes would be eliminated, and they would be more productive working from home. However, data suggests the opposite. For example, a global study by Qualtrics concluded that 42% of people indicated that their mental health declined since the Covid outbreak began. In addition, remote workers, who were full-time in the office before March 2020, are 30% more likely to say their mental health is worse being away from the office.
Many thought that video meetings, such as Zoom, would be the solution to untether workers because they could work from anywhere. However, a report by Vitria Consulting also indicates the opposite. Nearly one-half of professionals working remotely reported a “high degree of exhaustion as a direct result of numerous video calls.” In addition, they note that “Zoom fatigue” results from a more significant number of meetings now being needed from being remote and being on camera all day.
Benefits of Empathy in the Workplace
When people experience high-stress levels, minor issues become more pronounced. This means that anyone who supervises employees or supports a customer must be well-trained to cope with unhappy staff or customers and address the concerns raised in those interactions. Our experience is that when such situations develop, it’s empathy that is most needed.
A recent study conducted by Catalyst found that empathy produces significant positive benefits for employees.
- Innovation – when leaders are empathetic, 61% of employees report that they are more innovative than only 13% of employees with unemphatic leaders.
- Engagement – More empathic leaders have more engaged staff than less empathic leaders – 76% versus 32%.
- Retention – When staff members feel like their leaders are more empathic, they are significantly more likely to stay with their current company.
- Balancing work/life demands – 86% of employees who work for empathic leaders reported they were better able to handle their work demands and life obligations.
Key Traits of Empathy
Empathy becomes the key to understanding an employee’s struggles. It invokes a feeling of appreciation for another person’s point of view and can help develop better solutions for a company’s human resource programs.
So, what are the key traits of an empathic leader or customer service star?
- They listen really well.
- They ask thought-provoking questions (rather than just stating their own opinion).
- They think about what is being said from the perspective of “if I were in this person’s shoes” or “if I had experienced the same thing, would I feel the same way?” (rather than just giving advice).
- When they respond, it is sincere and authentic (rather than a “canned” company-provided response or one that is read from a manual).
Ways to Identify Empathy When Interviewing Candidates
If a company’s success becomes so directly tied to its staff’s ability to convey empathy, how do we identify these traits when we interview applicants, and how can we better train existing staff?
When interviewing potential candidates, employers often experience only polished and practiced responses. Employers need to cut through the chaff and get to the wheat to see what’s inside. Here are some valuable tools.
- Pay close attention to how an applicant treats people who are not involved in the decision-making process. For example, how did the candidate speak with the receptionist, security guard, cleaning personnel, or anyone else that they interacted with? You are trying to determine if they acted “superior” in some fashion or dismissive. This requires employers to be more observant and willing to listen to all opinions. Unfortunately, this approach will not be available if a company relies on a remote interviewing process, such as Zoom.
- Ask questions that don’t have a clear “correct” or “incorrect” answer, but make an applicant think “on their feet.” Having applicants adjust their thinking from standard interviewing questions to organic, free-flowing conversations can be very revealing. For example, you could ask a candidate these types of questions:
- How would you respond if someone came to you after 5 pm and needed assistance with_____________(fill in the blank related to whatever customer service issues are appropriate for your business)? Listen carefully to their response. Does the applicant sound like they are trying to put themselves in the other person’s shoes or simply trying to resolve the matter quickly?
- How would you respond to multiple issues at the same time? For example, pick three or more customer service problems appropriate for your business and ask the candidate to prioritize their responses and why they chose that order. This type of question can produce multiple indications about a candidate’s empathy, ability to prioritize, and recognition skills.
- Evaluate the candidate’s ability to listen as opposed to “waiting” to respond. Although this does not directly evaluate someone’s empathy skills, it provides insight into how they connect with others. In addition, it focuses on their ability to adjust from a prepared response.
- Read body language. People give off so many clues about what they are feeling through body language. Visual clues can be more truthful than actual words. Unfortunately for those who rely on Zoom to interview remote candidates, people don’t give off the same body language in this format as they do “in person.”
Training Staff to be More Empathetic
Training existing employees in effective ways to deliver empathy can be invaluable. Major companies utilize empathy training, including role-playing, as part of their curriculum. Employers can generate various customer service scenarios and have staff members act in each role – customer and company – and have other staff members evaluate each outcome. This training program also can help identify and teach visual clue skills.
Surveying existing customers for their reactions to your staff’s interactions and responses can be another valuable tool that can then be utilized to generate helpful training courses.
In today’s environment, your employees and customers have had to adjust to new concepts and pressures - such as hybrid working environments, remote learning for their kids, as well as new health and safety concerns. These issues compound stress levels and require business leaders and customer service staff to enhance their skills to be effective. When a company effectively delivers higher levels of service, it can be rewarded by transforming unhappy staff or customers into promoters for your business and highlighting their experience on social media. Empathy is the key to that success.
At Kenwood Management, we value empathy as a highly impactful skill for all of our staff. Their ability to utilize it helps our tenants feel heard, recognized and understood. Since we are long-term commercial property owners and look to renew our tenants multiple times, keeping them happy and satisfied is critical to our success. If you’d like to become a tenant in the Kenwood community, we’d love to hear from you.