Retaining Talent: Choose Leaders Who Can Master This Quality

Businessmen giving a high five

It’s no secret that bad bosses can send employees running. According to author William A. Gentry, ineffective leaders make up half of today’s organizational management pool, costing organizations millions of dollars per year in direct and indirect costs. This is an even larger concern for organizations where customer satisfaction and service are key for revenue. These are the organizations which depend most strongly on their leadership for their success. Leaders have to possess an abundance of skills and qualities, but there is one, often overlooked, quality which truly helps a leader connect with peers and employees — empathy.

A 2015 Gallup Poll found that half of all employees who quit their jobs do so to escape their direct managers. Think about it: Out of all the reasons people leave employers, 50 percent resign due to the actions of one person.
— NH Business Review, July 20th 2018

What is empathy?

As an organization which heavily depends on their leaders to guide teams in some of the most treacherous of circumstances, the U.S. Army’s Army Field Manual on Leader Development considers empathy to be an essential quality for competent leadership. The manual goes on to define empathy as demonstrating an understanding of another person’s point of view while identifying with other’s feelings and emotions with a display of desire to care for others.

In a business environment, a leader possessing empathy creates an environment where there is a significant emphasis on recognizing the factors impacting job performance. A leader who, just by taking time to recognize and understand an employee’s need for a slight accommodation, can be a significant factor in turning an ineffective employee into one who surpasses expected goals with ease and enthusiasm. A leader capable of maintaining a high retention rate reduces high costs associated with employee turnover, lost expertise, and loss of clients for their organization just by being effective at addressing employee concerns.

“If you think your business practices empathy effectively, think again: less than 50 percent of employees in a recent Businessover survey reported feeling their companies are empathetic.
— Inc. Magazine

Empathy Impacts Job Performance

From an employee’s perspective the drive to work within environments where they can find support and understanding is extremely high. Among countless studies, employees show a strong indication of remaining in positions where overall they make far less with fewer benefits simply because they feel an overall sense they are being heard and understood within their current roles. The Center of Creative Leadership conducted a study specific to leadership’s display of empathy in which they found leaders who possess “emphatic emotion as rated from the leader’s subordinates positively predicts job performance ratings from the leader’s boss,” concluding empathetic leaders are assets to organizations, in part, because they are able to effectively build and maintain relationship — a critical part of creating an engaged and dedicated team.

Empathy as an Organizational Practice

Organizations who make empathy a core objective in the qualities their leadership create a culture where employees are not only more satisfied within their roles, but are also able to more effectively show empathy in their work. This is a key to creating work teams who are able to actively listen to customer concerns while responding in a way which shows they genuinely care to resolve these concerns. By understanding the organization’s objective is to care and display empathy for others, it paves a way for employees to model this philosophy in all that they do.

As an empathetic leader, bringing empathy into your organization can start with even small gestures, such as practicing consideration for others; holding the door, allowing others to go first, or just simply listening to an employee’s concerns when their performance falters. These small acts of kindness, help to create a culture where employees see empathy as an actively practiced skill. In a more prominent way, many organizations adopt company-wide practices to make empathy a front-and-center topic within their organization, organizing think-tank sessions centered around trying to understand their peers and the actions of others, creating an organization where employees have a voice and active engagement into how their everyday interactions impact others.

Amanda S