When employees are feeling the impact of disruptions like a death, divorce or life-changing diagnosis, what’s an appropriate way to show workplace empathy?
A survey by Businessolver showed that workplace empathy, which can promote resilience among your people, can also have an impact on a company’s bottom line:
- 82% of respondents said they’d be willing to change jobs for increased workplace empathy, and
- 76% said the presence, or absence, of empathy is directly linked to their productivity.
“If the last two years have (shown) us anything, it’s that disruptive life events that are affecting one person in our office are actually affecting all of us,” said Liesel Mertes, founder of Handle With Care Consulting.
Creating a space for workplace empathy
In a presentation during the 2022 BambooHR Virtual Summit, Mertes said that to make workplace empathy part of your organizational culture, it’s essential to normalize how much the things outside of work affect employees’ mindsets while they’re working. A tried-and-true activity that she says gets the ball rolling is a “stop light check-in” at the start of meetings.
“Rate the energy that you are bringing to this session. Red – you’re here, but you have some hesitations; it’s a little hard right now. Yellow – you’re here; there may be some things running (through your mind) in the background. Green – you’re here, you’re excited, you’re engaged; maybe you’ve got great plans after this session. I always want to commend the people who are brave enough to put down red,” Mertes said.
Folks bringing red energy to a meeting are the ones whom a manager ought to do a follow-up check-in with after the meeting. The conversation can start with: “Hey, you said you were red in that meeting. Is there any reallocation of work that we could do to be helpful?”
Workplace ‘first responder’
Co-workers and managers may be unsure what to do or say when there are visible signs that someone is navigating family or other personal problems. That’s why it may be up to HR to make the first move to stabilize somebody that feels like their life’s falling apart and help them get to the next level of care that they need.
Some phrases that Mertes said can be helpful when you’re talking with someone dealing with difficulties outside of work:
- “Do you need me to just listen right now or do you want to troubleshoot?” (Acknowledging how the person is feeling is the key.)
- “What is this like for you?”
- “I’m really sorry you’re going through this. It sounds difficult right now.”
- “Tell me more.”
- “This is a lot right now, but I’m here with you and you’ve got this.”
But you want to steer clear of saying these because they’re too open-ended:
- “Let me know what I can do to help.” (Reallocating some of the person’s work tasks is a more helpful option to explore.)
- “Take all the time you need.” (Instead, keep beneficial time-bound check-ins with the person.)