Why empathy in the workplace matters

By Carli Uys

Head of Marketing, Research and Development (MCom Industrial Psychology and MCom Communication studies)

Organisations should focus more on hiring and developing effective managers and leaders who are capable of moving organisations forward during good and challenging times. Organisations should start looking beyond the traditional strategies for management development and start cultivating skills that are important for success. One of these skills is empathy.

Empathy is a leadership competency that is essential when it comes to leadership. It is a core skill, if not the most important one, of emotional intelligence. Empathy is seen as a valued currency in leaders even if some people consider it as a touchy-feely discipline. Empathy can be difficult to master and it can be demanding to maintain, but it can be done. It is important for leaders to get out of their own shoes and put themselves in the shoes of their team members to be able to truly understand what it is that they are going through. Empathy has a major impact on leadership effectiveness.

Having the ability to be compassionate and to be able to connect with others is a critical part of our lives, both personally and professionally. Demonstrating empathy improves human interactions in general and lead to more effective communication and positive outcomes, both in work and in home settings.

Empathy in the workplace is the ability to perceive and relate to the thoughts, emotions and experiences of others. When a person has high levels of empathy, they are skilled at understanding a situation from another person’s perspective and reacting with compassion. This means that if a leader shows empathy towards team members and vice versa, then the leader and team members are able to establish true, empathetic connections with one another that help enhance their relationships and performance.

Empathy acts as a glue between leader and team member relationships. A leader shares a very strong bond with team members, and like in any other relationship, it also requires empathy. Empathy between leaders and team members boost the character of both leader and team member. There has been a lot of research on the role of empathy in business as well. Empathy can help humanize marketing efforts and drive sales.

As a leader, if you do not have empathy, you will not be able to get the desired results from your team members. The following are a few tips to get you started with develop empathy:

Empathy is the doorway into deeper, safer, more vulnerable relationships, which are rewarding and form the basis on which organisations can achieve optimal results. Relationships and empathetic communication are the wheels on which an organisation moves. The health of the organisation depends on the level of empathy in the leadership.

How to be a great ‘virtual’ leader – Part 2

By Carli Uys (MCom Industrial Psychology and MCom Communication studies)

As a ‘virtual’ leader, you should focus on finding ways to translate your in-person leadership skills into virtual tactics to continuously focus on human connections.

As a ‘virtual’ leader, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I communicating enough with my team members?
  • Am I checking in with my team members enough to find out if they are coping?
  • Are my team members able to use their skills in the best way possible? If not, what can I do to help them?
  • What social activities can I do virtually to help get my team members to be more engaged?
  • What support can I offer my team members to help them be more engaged and not feel like they are disconnected from their work?
  • What other tools can I possibly use to get my team members to be more connected?
  • Are my one-on-one sessions with my team members making a positive impact?

By asking yourself these questions, you will focus on the importance of building connections with your team members and let them know that you are there for them no matter what.

Virtual leadership should focus on boosting collaboration through regular communication, transparency and accountability. According to Kaleigh Moore, an effective virtual leader should:

  • Make use of tools that will help to maintain an open line of communication between team members and to share everything from status updates to digital assets with the team members. Work Operating System (Work OS) is a great tool to use for this.
  • Be more transparent about the desired outcomes of the organisation as well as the organisation’s goals. This will help boost engagement from each team member and help them take ownership of the work they are producing.
  • Hold each team member accountable for their work that they must deliver and give team members more autonomy.

Arial group indicated that there are 5 key skills all virtual leaders need and how they can develop them.

How to be a great ‘virtual’ leader – Part 1

By Carli Uys (MCom Industrial Psychology and MCom Communication studies)

Some leaders might assume that being a leader in the office is easier than being a leader virtually. In the office a leader can see team members, observe their behaviours and struggles, build stronger relationships with them, give guidance where needed and motivate team members to help them achieve their goals.

When people work virtually, they have the opportunity (if they so choose) to show their leaders only what they want them to see. Leaders only get small glimpses of insight into their team members’ lives through a virtual call, instant messages and emails. The leader will not have a full picture of what is truly going on at home. They will try to hide that the atmosphere at home is tense, or that one of the kids just had an accident.

In the now virtual working world, each employee is facing different challenges while working from home, such as unique stressors, relationship challenges and domestic circumstances. Employees do not have tech support and have to become their own tech support ‘manager’, they are also battling with bandwidth and other obstacles.

Leaders will have to take a different management approach when leading and managing their virtual teams. Leading teams virtually requires of the leader to improve on communications skills, through having great writing skills that translates the message correctly as well as translating important things like empathy and understanding through written words.

The virtual world is putting the leader’s leadership skills to the test. Research showed that leaders now have to continuously be on their ‘A-game’ to have teams and communities deliver excellent performance while working virtually.

So, what makes a great ‘virtual’ leader?

The answer is, being a transformational leader. A transformational leader focuses on empowering people and tapping into deeper needs and motivations. Research has found that ‘virtual’ employees respond well to transformational leadership because the change in approach fits the new dynamics at play.

The research findings indicate that leaders should apply the following to manage virtual teams better:

Most organisations are settling into the fact that home-working is the foreseeable future of work. The best leaders will have to learn quickly to find new ways to motivate and engage their team members.