CRISTEN DALESSANDRO: Alright. So it's 12:01, so I think we can go ahead and get started.
Maybe some more people might be coming in, but that's okay. So hello, and thank you for joining us for today's webinar: A Practical Approach to Empathy, the Six Attitudes and Behaviors that Drive Trust, Connection, and Belonging.
For those of you who might be unfamiliar with O.C. Tanner, we partner with large organizations around the world to help them improve their workplace culture so employees feel appreciated, do their best work, and want to stay.
So before we begin, just a couple of housekeeping items to take care of. Today's presentation is both SHRM and HRCI certified for one hour of general credit. We'll be sharing the program IDs at the end of today's session. And, this presentation is being recorded and will be sent out to all registered attendees by the end of the week.
So before we get into the content today, which we're really excited to share with you, we'd like to introduce ourselves just for those of you who may not know us. So I'm Cristen Dalessandro, and joining me in the webinar today is Daniel Patterson.
Daniel is a senior researcher here at O.C. Tanner, who specializes in the psychology that shapes the employee experience.
In addition to his research, he regularly leads client assessment projects, as well as tailored client initiatives that analyze business impact and ROI, specifically with an eye to helping organizations improve their workplace culture.
He specializes in mixed method research and holds a master's degree from the University of Utah with advanced studies in research and theory. So welcome, Daniel.
DANIEL PATTERSON: Thank you very much. And, I am here today with Cristen Dalessandro, one of our top senior researchers and sociologist here at O.C. Tanner, who specializes in the study of social inequalities, as well as qualitative and quantitative research methods.
As a part of the O.C. Tanner Institute Cristen conducts client assessment projects and researches the employee experience and workplace culture through a social science lens. She has a PhD from the University of Colorado Boulder and completed her post doctoral fellowship at the University of Utah.
She has published over twenty articles in peer reviewed journals, and her recent book, Intimate Inequalities, Millennials' romantic relationships in contemporary times, explores how millennials navigate social and identity differences in their relationships.
Okay. So now that you know a little bit about us, let's take you through the agenda for today.
First, we'll take you through our 2024 Global Culture Report which is the source of much of the research that we'll be discussing today.
Second, we'll cover the empathy dilemma how we should define empathy and why it's so difficult to implement in the workplace.
Next, we'll cover practical empathy, which is our model of empathy and includes a list of six key attitudes and behaviors, as mentioned in the title.
Fourth, we want to share with you an example of practical empathy in action that came out of our research this year.
And then last but not least, We'll do a wrap up of our key takeaway points.
Cristen, would you mind starting us off by, telling us a little bit about the global culture report?
CRISTEN: Of course. So we wanna just take a minute to talk to everybody a little bit about the 2024 Global Culture Report before we get into empathy. Because I think it would be helpful to talk a little bit about it.
Since it's where we're getting a lot of our, data and the ideas for today. So what is the Global Culture Report exactly or as we refer to it, the GCR?
Well, at a high level, this is our annual report that provides industry leaders with a rigorous look at the evolving shape of work.
So every year, O.C. Tanner tracks, analyzes, and chronicles the latest trends and insights in the workplace, using both qualitative and quantitative data to develop a framework of a thriving workplace culture from the employee perspective.
So more broadly, our report kind of considers several key elements. First, we always take a global approach. So we survey employees in more than twenty countries across six continents across the world to come to our conclusions.
Second, we explore the talent magnets, which are the six key characteristics of workplace culture that are crucial to an employee's decision to join, engage, and stay with an organization.
We're not gonna get into those so much today, but if you're interested, you can read all about them in the report.
Last but not least, our reporting focuses on the employee experience.
Or how employees view their experiences within an organization.
So through interviews, focus groups, and surveys, this year's report--we have a lot of data--we engaged over 40,000 employees, leaders, and HR practitioners in 27 countries in order to better understand the state of workplace cultures across the world.
And a key theme that emerged from this exploration was the idea of shift, which is the theme for the entire report this year. Small but powerful shifts in the workplace have employees and leaders questioning how to move forward and adapt to a new business landscape characterized by uncertainty and rapid change.
So this year's Global Culture Report reveals the insights, strategies, and principles that enable HR leaders to build driving workplace cultures in the face of this ongoing change. So, Daniel, now that we've covered the Global Culture Report at sort of a very general level, I think we should jump right into empathy.
Well, given the context that Cristen laid out, in terms of our Global Culture Report, it should come as no surprise that companies across all industries continue to wrestle with the aftershocks of the COVID pandemic. And as a result, employees find themselves facing new demands and challenges that leave them feeling anxious, vulnerable, and in many cases simply burned out. They want leaders and organizations that understand their needs and see them as people, and not just as a resource. They want an empathetic workplace culture.
And this desire for an empathetic culture is not lost on business leaders. And in fact, in a recent report, they found that 80% of CEOs say empathy is key to success in the workplace.
Now that said, unfortunately, between recognizing the value of empathy and creating an empathetic work environment, something isn't working.
Our own research found that less than half of employees say that empathy is a core part of their workplace culture.
CRISTEN: Okay. So, employees want a more empathetic work experience and leaders clearly see empathy as a key to success. But empathy still isn't making its way into the culture in a lot of cases. So that makes me wonder, where's the disconnect?
DANIEL: It's an excellent question, Cristen. Well, we actually found there is something interesting going on in the workplace, particularly with leaders, and something that we refer to as the empathy dilemma.
Across our focus groups and our interviews, managers and supervisors shared a common scenario with us. Senior leadership recognized the value of empathy and having empathetic culture, so what do they do? Well, they gather all their people leaders together and say, be more empathetic. So easy.
Right? Well, Obviously, no, not really. Well, first off, I should back up and say, even among academics and scholars, there is no clear definition of what empathy actually is.
Is it a trait?
Is it a characteristic?
Is it something you can teach, or is it some innate quality that either you have or you don't have?
Well, without a clear understanding of what empathy in the workplace is, or how it should be implemented, leaders increasingly find themselves taking on the role of therapist for their people.
Leaders end up consequently burned out, their emotional bandwidth is taxed trying to care for everyone they need to. And in the end, traditional empathy initiatives are abandoned because they fail to meet the needs of leaders or employees in ways that are actionable or sustainable.
So if these approaches to empathy in the workplace don't work, well, what does? Well, there's a great quote that came from one of our focus group participants that I think provides us with some really helpful clues.
This participant said, "I feel like empathy is responding to the needs of your employees. A lot of the time, a company's response is geared toward the consumer or end product and not the people who help them get there."
Now for empathy in the workplace to truly work, it has to be more than a therapy session. It has to be genuinely people-centered, where needs are heard and understood and responded to in a meaningful way.
So with this in mind, our research this year helped us develop a model of practical empathy that both defines what empathy can look like in the workplace and offer insight into actionable ways that empathy can be practiced.
So based on our research, we define practical empathy as a practice of care that focuses on the experience of the individual.
It's grounded in understanding, shaped by multiple perspectives, and backed by supportive action. This is particularly important and something we're gonna dive to here in just a bit. And lastly, practical empathy is guided by appropriate boundaries.
CRISTEN: Oh, I love this, Daniel, because to me, it seems that what's been missing from previous definitions of empathy, at least the ones that I've seen, is that emphasis on practicality and appropriate boundary setting.
DANIEL: Right. Absolutely.
And empathy in a workplace setting is really rooted in understanding as, you know, as most models would kind of agree. But it really also requires a practical approach with boundaries for ourselves and others. So, obviously, the next question is, how do we get there?
Well, we developed an index that identifies the six key attributes that contribute to employees feeling a sense of practical empathy at work. Now perhaps unsurprisingly, we found that practical empathy really begins and ends with a genuine focus on the individual.
When this focus is the core motivator, the other attributes almost naturally follow. Care for the individual motivates leaders and organizations to seek understanding, listen to learn, and embrace employee perspectives.
And this level of understanding, subsequently, helps inform what supportive actions might look like for employees as well as foster a respect for appropriate boundaries.
So what we'd like to do now is spend some time unpacking each of these six attributes to help us better understand the role they play in practical empathy and the impact they can have on the employee experience. So, Cristen, would you like to start us off with the first one?
CRISTEN: Of course. So the first key attribute of practical empathy that I'd like to cover is focusing on the person. So by "focus on the person," we're referring to the prioritization of individuals' needs, challenges, and potential. So this idea is something that really resonates with our existing research for those of you out there who might be familiar with it.
You know, and when it comes to generating positive outcomes for employees and organizations alike, because, you know, what we've seen in our past research and what we continue to find is that knowing your people is important for positive outcomes. And relatedly, focusing on the person is an important component of practical empathy.
So here's just one example, I guess maybe two examples, of how focusing on the person can lead to positive outcomes for organizations.
So when leaders take time to understand their employees' career goals, which can be one way that this manifests, our research shows that 4.6 times increased odds that employees will feel comfortable with change on the job. And we also see 5 times increased odds that they will plan to stay with the organization at least one more year.
So these are two ongoing issues that this particular attribute speaks to. You know, this issue of dealing with change, which is something that we have seen just increasingly, especially in the last few years, and this question of attrition. So even though recent reports have pointed out that attrition, kind of looking at the trends, is down recently, it's actually still better and more efficient for organizations to hold on to their best employees rather than lose those folks and try to replace them.
But by, you know, by simply taking time to understand where employees are coming from and where they want to go with their careers, this can go a long way in helping them be resilient to change and encouraging them to stay with the organization.
So another way of focusing on the person again is to help employees work through any challenges that they may be facing. So in this case, you know, among employees who feel understood when they talk to their leaders about a problem, we see five times increased odds that they will feel comfortable with change on the job as well as five times increased odds if they'll plan to stay with the organization at least one more year.
So one sort of real, I guess, real world, if you will, example, that I think illustrates how an organization can focus on the person comes from CEAT. This example is actually in our Global Culture Report this year, in the chapter on skill building, which we're not gonna get into that today, but it's another chapter of the report. And there's a lot of overlap between supporting skill-building and focusing on the person because each person's skill-building journey is going to be a little bit personalized and different. So CEAT, a global tire manufacturer, understands its employees' personal aspirations are important.
So the company provides opportunities to explore various departments and participate in extracurricular activities. And what sets CEAT apart as well is the encouragement it gives its people. So Arjun Singh, the VP of Human Resources explains the company perspective, quote, to ensure that our belief and trust in employees convert into practice and ultimately culture, we have contemporary policies that provide a guiding framework so people can get the benefits of these policies.
DANIEL: Now this is skipping ahead just a little bit, but, what I love with this example is it also demonstrates, not just focusing on the person but also pairing that focus with action, which is a really important ingredient of practical empathy.
CRISTEN: Exactly. And, you know, as Daniel mentioned, we're gonna talk about this a little bit later, but understanding plus taking action is really key here.
But for now, I think it's important to point out that a great strategy for focusing on the person, is to give leaders the tools they need to understand where their employees are coming from. So, you know, things like one to ones are another great real world strategy that can be used here to kind of achieve this end.
So next, I wanna talk about another component of practical empathy, which is seeking understanding.
And by seeking understanding, we're really referring to this practice of soliciting input and feedback on policies, programs, and day-to-day employee experiences. And that includes both the positive experiences and potentially the negative experiences as well. So all of the experiences.
And seeking understanding is about what individual leaders are doing, but it's also about a general climate of understanding too. So for instance, our research has found that when employees report that seeking understanding is a common practice in their workplaces, we see 2.5 times increased odds that they will feel a sense of trust in their leaders and four times increased odds that they will feel a sense of belonging at work. You know, and these are two things, especially in particular belonging, this is something that we've long shown in our research is kind of key and critical to that employee experience and whether or not that's a positive experience or not.
So here's an additional focus group quote from our own research that I think illustrates this point. And this is an interesting quote. I think we'll see why in a second. But it's from someone who's employed as a social worker within a larger organization in the Midwest.
So I'll just read the quote. "Where I work, none of the leaders have been social workers. They need to spend a couple of days in our shoes, going out with us and kind of seeing everything we have to do. There has to be an understanding."
So unfortunately, you know, this quote is interesting because the broader context here is that this focus group participant's leaders were actually not doing that work of seeking understanding.
And you know, but from this person's point of view, doing that work would actually make a huge difference to their employee experience. You know, it's not that they had to have bosses or leaders who were social workers, but they did have to go out of their way or you know, take some time to at least understand where their employees were coming from from their perspective and what they were doing day to day.
So as we've seen from our stats, seeking understanding makes a huge difference to employees. And as you can see from our focus group quote, and there's many others like this, you know, it makes a huge difference when you're just one to one talking to employees as well and getting sort of their perspective on the difference that seeking understanding can make.
DANIEL: It really does, Cristen. And, unfortunately, as you point out, a common theme that ran throughout our focus groups and the interviews this past year was that a lot of the employee experiences would have been greatly improved if their leaders simply took the time to understand what they were going through.
And we saw this across a variety of industries. And the really significant impact. I can say, and conversely, those employees who had leaders who really, it didn't take anything elaborate or over the top. It was simply the, you know, getting out into the field, getting in the trenches with them, seeing what they do and acknowledging that the work that they do and that they're being seen, had a true significant impact on what that employee experience was like.
CRISTEN: Exactly. And so this just goes to show another reason why it's important to get that feedback from employees in order to assess, you know, what's going on and to access that next level of understanding if you, you know, coming from the perspective of a leader. Any note, there's many ways to do this, right? One to ones, and also like surveys, town halls, you know, any way to kind of get that, that deeper level of understanding really helps.
DANIEL: Absolutely. And actually, this segues very nicely into the next component in our model, which is listening to learn.
And, you know, what we saw repeatedly is, you know, whether you sit in front of a screen, at a desk, or walk the floor of a warehouse, the workplace is an environment where communication is constant and listening is key to both effective communication and, as Cristen has highlighted, really reaching a genuine level of understanding.
For leaders to truly understand the needs, challenges, and potential of their people, they have to actively listen with a sincere intent to learn, and this aspect is really important here. This is more than just asking questions to confirm what you think you already know, which unfortunately, I think we all can fall into that practice at times. But it's really about being open to the ideas and experiences of others.
And as one of our focus group participants put it, "I think a lot of empathy is listening to the person and the person feeling listened to, feeling that they're genuinely heard.
CRISTEN: Right? You know, Daniel, I think this is such an important part of the practice of practical empathy. You know, so often we think that we understand what goes on in a person's role, or how they're going to do what they do, or we might even ask the superficial, you know, how's work going?
But we're not really getting insight into the reality of their experience. So imagine how different those leader and employee relationships would be if all leaders ask questions like, what do you need to succeed in your role? And then not just to ask, but actually you know, genuinely listen to that response.
DANIEL: Absolutely. I mean, it could be transformational. And, actually, the research also agrees.
What we found, was that when leaders take time to really listen and understand what employees do in their role, there's a powerful impact on outcomes. So, for example, here, we see a 6 times increase in an employee's sense of connection to their leader, an almost 5 times increase in employee's sense of belonging and a 4 times increase in employee sense of fulfillment.
And we see these are just a few of the outcomes that we're highlighting here, there's significantly more in the Global Culture Report. But, you know, all of this comes as a result of leaders really just kind of taking time to understand, something as simple as what employees do in their roles.
Now we also found too that when employees perceive that active listening is a common practice in their workplace as a whole, we see a 4.8 times increased odds of employee desire to stay with the organization for one more year. We see a 4.5 times increased odds of employee sense of community. And then and this is, I think, is an extraordinary finding, almost 80% decrease in the odds of employee burnout.
CRISTEN: Yeah. So I like these numbers. You know, these are numbers that we like to see, especially that burnout.
Almost 80% decrease is pretty impressive. And this all ties back to what we also saw with understanding. Now when organizations establish practices like understanding, active listening, it contributes to an overall climate where practical empathy can thrive.
DANIEL: Agreed. And actually, a perfect example of what this looks like in action is Omni Hotels and Resorts.
Omni Hotels and Resorts has made employee listening and empowerment a priority by introducing a concept that they call the power of one.
Every new employee is taught that they are empowered to solve problems and ensure guests have a positive experience. If a guest has to wait for a room, an employee has the discretion to offer them a free drink in the lounge.
Alex Pratt, the director of human resources was quoted saying the person making that decision might be a waiter or a busboy or a bellman. They don't have to get permission.
All they have to do is arrange for the delivery of whatever they want to deliver. So with Omni, every day starts with a stand up meeting, where employees are encouraged to talk, but even more importantly, managers are encouraged to listen.
Again, one of the quotes from Alex said it may be fun or it may be serious, but the idea is to stimulate interest among employees.
Now with this group, the listening doesn't stop here. Employees are also asked how they would solve specific problems or challenges, even if the situation is outside of their daily functional area, and it shows them that their input is not only heard, but really genuinely valued. And I really love this, you know, this story because it highlights not only key aspects of understanding and listening, but also leads us to our next important part of practical empathy, which is embracing perspectives.
Now at some point, we've all been in one of those meetings where someone makes a comment or asks a question and it's met with embarrassed chuckles or eye rolls. And sometimes it's even met with a dismissive, "well, that's not how we do things around here."
Now, reactions like these shut down different ideas or perspectives, and they certainly don't instill a sense of being understood or feeling valued and they definitely don't foster a sense of empathy.
Now imagine what would happen if instead of disregarding different perspectives, leaders nurtured the conversation and opened up a dialogue. I mean, how could a response like, "well, tell me more about that," or "what would that look like in practice?" How could that change not only the energy in the room, but also the individual sense of value, belonging, and contribution?
CRISTEN: Right, Daniel, not to mention the very real possibility that new and better solutions could emerge, right?
Innovation happens when leaders create a safe space where everyone feels like can speak their mind and share their thoughts.
DANIEL: Absolutely. And our research has found that embracing diverse perspectives has a powerful impact on a variety of important outcomes.
So to your observation, Cristen, about finding innovative solutions, well, when leaders try to understand their employees by looking at the workplace experience from their perspective, we see a 6 times increase in the odds that the organization will be quick to innovate.
And at the employee level, we find a 7 times increase in the employee's sense of connection to their leader, and an almost 6 times increase in employee's sense of belonging. So simply put, embracing diverse perspectives and experiences helps both individuals and organizations thrive--something that another example we have, Novartis, they know and champion.
So Novartis believes that diversity is integral to their success because it helps them to understand the unique needs of their patients and find innovative ways of addressing those needs. So over the years, Novartis's DE&I efforts have grown from awareness and making sure that they were training people to build, to building actual competencies.
Novartis sees DE&I as business drivers that lead to innovation.
As Hannah Perry, their chief diversity and culture officer says, "The work we do in, diversity, equity, and inclusion is about creating an environment where everyone feels they belong, where rocking our differences is valued and celebrated and encouraged. It's about consciously shaping our systems, structures, and behaviors, so everyone at Novartis has what they need to thrive."
Now, of course, what all these attributes of practical empathy so far are leading to is a critical component that really distinguishes our model from traditional approaches to empathy. You wanna take this one, Cristen?
CRISTEN: Yes. Of course. So okay. Now we've reached the point where that, you know, we mentioned earlier the importance of taking supportive action. We have come to that point.
So taking supportive action means really going beyond simply caring and feeling for employees and taking additional action on their behalf.
So unfortunately, our surveys have found that only 59% of employees report that expressions of empathy are accompanied by meaningful action and support. So yes, that is over fifty percent, but really that means there's over 40% who are disagreeing with this. So there's a lot of room for growth here. And the data clearly shows us that expressions only go so far if they're not accompanied by those supportive actions.
Yet when leaders and organizations do act, employees are much more likely to feel engaged, fulfilled, and connected.
You know, for example, just a few highlights on this slide here. When employees feel their leaders and organizations take supportive actions, just to kinda draw your attention to a few of these. They have over 1100% increased odds of feeling a sense of belonging, an almost 1400% increased odds of above-average engagement, which is pretty striking.
And I also wanted to share this with you as well. You know, when an organization solicits employee feedback, we see five times increased odds of a strong sense community and inclusion, and two times increased odds that employees plan to stay not just one, but three more years.
However, when an organization doesn't just solicit, but also takes action on feedback, we see these numbers go up. So we see seven times increased odds of community and inclusion and three times increased odds that employees are planning to stay with their organization for at least three more years.
DANIEL: I mean, that's huge, Cristen. And now, so from these numbers, it's clear that taking action is a critical step to take empathy really to the next level.
CRISTEN: Exactly. You know, and taking action encompasses actions, both big and small, you know. For example, strategies for taking supportive action can include policy changes at the organizational level, of course, but they can also just be something like directing an employee to the appropriate resources when they need help and they aren't sure where to look for those resources.
You know, it can be small everyday things, and also can be these bigger things too. So besides what we've covered so far, there's one more crucial component to consider. And that is to respect boundaries.
So last but not least, the sixth component of practical empathy that we found in our research to be critical is the respecting of boundaries.
So perhaps the trickiest part of expressing empathy is respecting boundaries.
You know, we heard about this in our research and I think, you know, just in conversations off the cuff as well.
And, you know, similar to some of the other points we've already discussed, understanding boundaries is really about knowing your people at the end of the day and, you know, really taking the steps to understand where folks boundaries are really pays off.
So for instance, you know, when employees perceive that leaders appropriately respect boundaries, we see 306% increased odds that employees will feel connected to the organization, so not just their leaders, but the organization as a whole.
We also see 379% increased odds that employees will feel a sense of fulfillment in their work. And we see a 457% increase in the odds that employees will feel a sense of inclusion in the workplace.
So what does respecting boundaries look like in practice? You know, this component or attribute I think really lends itself to a real world example. So one example that we can share with you, it comes from KPMG.
So professional services firm KPMG uses practical empathy to help its people feel and do their best at work by helping them find achievement, mastery, purpose, and fulfillment in their work.
So specifically, the firm regularly solicits feedback from partners and employees on how they might improve well-being. And in addition, how they might provide extensive resources to support employee well-being, including mental health. So this could be things like digital and in person therapy, caregiver programs, support for major life events, and even webcasts to help normalize conversations about mental well-being.
So in addition to all this, KPMG has removed tasks that aren't related to leaders' core jobs so that they can focus on being better modern leaders as well as attend to their own needs.
Jason Larue, the partner and total rewards leader explains, quote, "We don't want to turn our leaders into therapists because that's not good for the individual or the leader.
Instead, the firm puts guardrails around empathy, encouraging leaders to understand and help their people as much as possible, but also ensuring leaders know who to reach out to when necessary."
So, more quotes from Larue, "there's a big opportunity to make empathy a core skill at organizations. There's a strong ROI.
If we invest a dollar in prevention, we see lower medical costs and higher productivity, both of which hit the bottom line. It's the right thing to do and a real advantage for businesses to do this."
DANIEL: Cristen, I think this is a great example of what respecting boundaries looks like in practice, not only from the standpoint of the importance of soliciting that feedback from the employees, but also recognizing, again, like we've mentioned that leaders don't need to be therapists, and that really leaders need to have a concern for the whole employee.
They need to, as we've kind of walked through this model, they need to actively understand, to listen to learn, and really try to embrace perspectives, but they also need to recognize when the employee needs or challenges are starting to push against kind of those boundaries of their role and relationship as a leader.
And when they need to be able to hand that off and say, you know what? I can see that you know, this particular area is a real challenge. Let's get in touch with HR because we've got--here are some of the other resources that we have and really be able to move employees into spaces where they're going to get the kind of, need and attention that they really need. But not overburden the leader and try to push them outside of their role.
I mean, I think this is just really an excellent example.
CRISTEN: Exactly, Daniel. And, you know, we talked, not a couple of culture reports ago, we talked about the important point that leaders are employees too. Right? And, you know, they're not, they have some of the same challenges and issues that employees who are not leaders have.
And so while it is important for leaders to understand their people and to know boundaries when it comes to empathy and be able to support their people the way that, you know, is appropriate for them. We do have to remember the leaders as well and understand that, yeah, you know, in most cases, it's not appropriate to ask them to be therapists.
And that is where kind of going back to the example, that's where, you know, the institutional support and institutional empathy, if you will, comes in and that we need to make sure that leaders also have the support that they need to be able to direct employees in the right direction or be able to protect themselves as well so that they can do their jobs.
So, yeah, you know, it's an important--I think kind of tying everything together, you know, I think that one of the things that we've seen, in our background research or something that we've seen that's missing is, you know, there's the idea that everybody should be empathetic, but, you know, there's not really a lot of information on, okay, well, how do we be empathetic in the workplace in a way that is respectful of everyone, right? And that is appropriate for everyone? And I think that understanding where boundaries are really helps address that gap, that you know, isn't necessarily talked about as much when we talk about this topic.
But you know, now that we've covered the six components of empathy, I do think it's time we share an example of practical empathy in action that really demonstrates how impactful incorporating these elements can be when it comes to the impact on the employee experience.
DANIEL: Absolutely. And this is one of my favorite parts.
Beyond simply developing a model of practical empathy, we took our research and testing to the next level to really see what this practice looks like in action.
So in our culture report research this year, we conducted a survey experiment to better understand how practices of empathy affect key employee outcomes such as desire to stay with your organization.
Now I should make a side note here.
Survey experiments are particularly useful, without getting too much into the weeds.
Especially because they allow us to examine a causal impact that a given treatment might have on a particular outcome.
So for this experiment, survey participants were all initially presented with the same scenario. And the scenario here was, and this is really drawn from some real world examples, "You're part of the team responsible for the assembly of your company's signature product. Your team has been tasked with completing a large order that has to be ready to ship to a client in two weeks.
Three days into the project, you arrive at work to find that the number of products that need to be assembled for the order has doubled, but the deadline has remained the same."
Now as a side note here, I should also, state that while the survey experiment and the subsequent findings are applicable across a variety of employee experiences, it really draws from what could be a real-life situation for workers who are often considered the most vulnerable and often the most in need of practical empathy, something that you can learn more about in the Global Culture Report in our 80% experience chapter.
So definitely something to take a look at.
Now after viewing that scenario, participants were then presented with one of five follow-up options.
And in these options, the initial follow-up that "the leader informed the team without showing any empathy" served as our baseline or our control group. Now, however, options two through five on the slide here, these were presented to other participants as our subsequent treatments.
And we get our results by comparing participants who got one of the treatments to those who got the control statement, kind of like a clinical trial, for example, where you would compare treatments against a control.
So what does success look like? Well, ideally, a leader would do all four of these things to fully practice practical empathy: listening, providing context, providing active support, and giving recognition.
And each of our treatments includes one or more of these elements in addition to touching on the characteristics we outlined on our index. So as we'll see, although including all four is ideal, even a little bit of empathy can make a huge impact.
So I gave just a brief overview of the treatments, but here is more specifically what each treatment entailed as well as the elements of practical empathy that they draw on.
So in treatment one, your leader asks what extra resources would be needed to help meet the new assembly goal.
So this treatment is an example of listening and also touches on three aspects of practical empathy focusing on the person, seek understanding, and listening to learn.
Now treatment two includes both listening and providing some context. So, the participant would get the following.
After listening to your concerns, they apologize for the extra hours that will be required and explain that the new assembly goal is the result of the client's unexpected expansion into a new market.
Treatment three takes things one step further by not only listening, providing context and understanding but also by offering support.
They take your request to senior leadership, but are ultimately unable to get extra resources. Your leader, however, commits to being on the floor with you and the team until the project is completed.
Now something I'd like to point out in this third treatment that I think is also significant. When we talk about, providing that, taking supportive action, we specifically constructed in this treatment in a way that while the leader reaches out and tries to and takes that supportive action, it doesn't necessarily get the ideal outcome that is "they take the concerns and say we need more resources."
In this situation that we set out, they take the supportive action, but ultimately they're not able to get the resources that were asked for. And this is gonna play a key part in when we look at the findings and what kind of impact, even just that act of taking action has on the employee.
And then lastly, treatment four is our ideal scenario incorporating all six elements as well as adding the element of recognition.
"When the project is finished, your leader sends out a company wide email recognizing you and your teammates by name, thanking you for your hard work that made the project a success."
And now this experiment is laid out in the culture report as well and goes into more detail. So if you wanna peruse that definitely feel free to get out and take a look at that in more detail.
So let's take the look take a look at the impact of our treatments.
Now again, these are all compared to the control statement, which contained no practices of empathy.
Now when the leader listens to employees, the first thing we see is it improves the odds that an employee wanting to be with the organization one year from now by 26%.
However, when the leader listens and provides context, it improves that retention by 62%.
And when the leader listens, provides context, and support, It jumps up again, improving the odds by 70%.
And lastly, when the leader listens, provides context, support, and recognizes the employees for their efforts. It improves the odds of retention by almost 90%.
Now you can also go out-- one of the things that I would recommend too, this is just one of the outcomes that we looked at.
I would definitely encourage you go out to the Global Culture Report and see more of the data that's out there.
Now I guess to conclude here with this experiment, practicing empathy has a clear and positive impact on retention.
And as I mentioned, we didn't show it here but we also found the same relationship between empathy, trust, and connection. And you can see that in the report chapter.
Now when empathy increases so does connection and retention plans.
At the same time, we saw the strongest outcomes when leaders didn't just listen and provide context, but also took action and recognized employees for their efforts.
So again, as I kind of mentioned, when we were talking about that, the way that treatment was set up, with regards to taking action. Even though the participants didn't get the desired request, they didn't get those extra resources, even having leaders take that action demonstrated a significant impact on their, in this case, on their desire to stay with the organization.
CRISTEN: Thanks, Daniel. And, you know, I think this experiment is really useful because as you mentioned, you know, survey experiments allow us to capture the causal relationship between something like practical empathy and the positive outcomes that we looked at.
DANIEL: And in fact, one of the things that I really like about this particular experiment is it provides a kind of roadmap of practices that leaders can implement to foster a culture of practical empathy in the workplace.
Again, I think it's important to remember, going back to kind of our very beginning, part of the empathy dilemma is, how do we think about and define empathy in the workplace? And a key thing I hope that we're demonstrating here that empathy in the workplace isn't a trait or a characteristic, but really it's a practice of care. And with that in mind, there are very practical, actionable steps that you can take to really achieve those empathetic outcomes.
Well, as usual, Cristen, we have served up yet again another mountain of material to digest.
Would you mind distilling all this down into some actionable takeaways that HR leaders can put into practice?
So, you know, and I think that we can really kind of synthesize everything down to four key points, keeping in mind there are, you know, there are six practices, but big picture.
What are the four key points that we could take away from here?
So I think the number one thing which Daniel actually just mentioned again is that practical empathy is a practice not a trait.
So if, you know, you as a leader or as an organization are kind of stressing about this idea of empathy and, you know, "maybe we're just not an empathetic place. Maybe I'm just not an empathetic person."
You could take heart in knowing that our research has revealed that practical empathy is a practice. So it's not something that you necessarily are, but it's sort of a key set of practices and things that, you know, you can work on in order to implement practical empathy in your workplace environment.
And second, you know, I think it's really important even though we've shared a lot of information with you and you know, practical empathy has a number of components that we've uncovered in our research.
Practical empathy is really grounded in understanding and supported by action. Right. So our definition is a little different from maybe other definitions of empathy because, you know, we really emphasize that practical component, you know, the practical empathy that we measured is grounded in understanding, but that action component is equally important to employees. And as we saw, you know, taking action really does amplify positive outcomes that we like to see.
Third, seeking employee feedback in order to understand their experiences and challenges. You know, if you don't know where to start and you want to take action, I think it came up again and again in our research that seeking employee feedback is a really good strategy for getting things kicked off, right?
That helps with understanding, that helps with knowing where people are at and what's going on and really just starting that empathetic relationship that might be lacking to begin with.
DANIEL: If I can add to that too, I mean, I think that it's so important and I'm glad that you bring that up as one of the key takeaways.
So often we heard from our participants, our focus group participants, we saw in our research and our data that, one of the things that really was an obstacle to facilitating and fostering that empathetic workplace culture in those connections was when leaders just assumed that they knew what their employees needed and making those assumptions that well, oh, "if we do this or we do that or if we take this step, that'll fix it." And really getting that employee perspective, seeking out that feedback was really integral in really creating those connections and really fostering that empathetic environment.
CRISTEN: Exactly. Right. And, you know, the one last thing that I think we wanna leave you all with, is this point that we've found in our research interactions, which is, without training or boundaries, leaders risk empathy fatigue and burnout.
So remember, as we talked about a little bit earlier, leaders are kinda in this interesting spot because they're critical to the project, if you will, of practical empathy, but we also have to remember that they are employees too. Right?
And so really bringing in that awareness of boundaries and that understanding of what practical empathy is, you know, it's not who you are. It's what you do.
This is really important to remember if you are wanting to, if any listeners out there, you're wanting to take these ideas and implement them. This is kind of a key thing to keep in mind I think going forward.
So with that being said, we do have a few minutes for questions.
If, you know, anybody has any questions they wanna put out there before we share the SHRM, and HRCI information.
Whitney, if you were gonna pick out the questions.
MODERATOR: Yeah. We have one. It said any data on what happens when feedback is solicited, but then no changes are made based on that information?
And in fact, I don't have numbers right off the top of my head. But over the course of our research over the past several years, one of the key areas that we explore and really look at closely is what we call modern leadership practices. And part of that modern leadership is communication with employees seeking feedback, acting on feedback.
And we have found, you know, repeatedly that when leaders engage with employees and seek feedback, if the organization doesn't then, if they fail to act on that feedback--And actually, sometimes, not only if they don't act on the feedback, but if they don't communicate out to the organization about any action--it actually has a really negative impact on a number of key measures, cultural, and business-wise. So, we definitely have the data. I'd encourage you to take a look at some of our past culture reports.
But it's important that leader, not only that they act on feedback, but that they communicate out to the organization because sometimes just that lack of transparency--our leaders might take steps and initiate policies, but if they're not communicating that to the broader employee population, then the employees feel like they're not being seen, they're not being heard, that their opinions aren't valued, and that can have a real negative impact on things like engagement, retention, sense of belonging or connection to the company.
CRISTEN: Right. Yeah. I mean, I was gonna say essentially the same thing, Daniel, but it's just, you know, in our focus group, or in our interview research, and in our quantitative research, we found that if it is--particularly in the qualitative focus group and interview research--we found that if employees are asked for their feedback and then that's where it ends, especially if a lot of time goes by, if there's no sort of update on what was done with the data and there are no sort of the communication on what has changed or has not changed, is just not there, that has a negative impact on how trusting employees feel of their organizations.
So, you know, even if not everything from the feedback can be implemented, employees do wanna know what the results of the survey or the interviews or whatever was done. They want that communication loop, and if that isn't there and especially if a lot of time goes by we found that that's generally not a good thing.
So, you might not be able to act on all of their feedback, realistically, probably not. But if you can close that communication loop, then that's really the solution that we like, the ending that we like see as opposed to just kind of the open ended, okay, you know, went out into the void and we don't know what happened to it.
Because then it doesn't seem like an empathetic practice. It just looks like some kind of check the box practice. Right? Like, oh, they had to, they got our feedback. So they said they have our feedback, but then they didn't actually do anything with it from an employee perspective.
DANIEL: One thing we've seen particularly over the last few years, in our research right now, there's so much change that is going on within the workplace, new work models, employee expectations, companies are having to adapt to all sorts of really seismic shifts and how, when, and where we work.
And so, employees actually, are genuinely sympathetic to the challenges of leadership. They get that things are changing, how they work is changing, and they're willing to be supportive with new programs and practices and policies and everything. But a key to that is feeling like that they are part of that process and that they're being heard.
Like, to Cristen's point, they recognized, they were actually surprisingly sympathetic to the fact that not everything that they request or ask for or want, that they're gonna get. They get that, but they do wanna feel like that they're genuinely being listened to. And so again, yeah, that feedback in an open transparent communication is more critical now than ever.
MODERATOR: Maybe we have time for one more. This one asks so many of our folks don't want to take a survey, but our department is too big to do one on ones. She, is asking, should we do focus groups, or what would you suggest to to do that?
DANIEL: Think we both have the facial expression there.
CRISTEN: Yeah. I mean, focus group could be a good solution. I mean, as a researcher, I always take the standpoint of if something's not working as it is, then, you know, try something different and see if that works better.
You know, focus groups could be a good solution in that case.
So, yeah, I would say go for it. Yes.
Or, you know, if there is a way to do one on ones, maybe not with everybody, but with some people.
You know, I think that, yeah, everybody ideally would like to do a one on one interview, but as long as you can kind of again, communicate with employees that there's limited resources, you know, not everybody may get to participate in a one to one. It might just be random selection then I think that employees would respond better to that than to sort of a blind process of, oh, you know, some people got asked but others didn't and we don't know why.
DANIEL: Yeah. And to that point too, I would say, you know, if you aren't in a position where you know, the one on ones or survey is an option, focus groups, like, to Cristen's point, that's a great option.
I would try to find a way to structure them, to get as much diverse representation as possible.
Because as she pointed out, you know, if not everybody has an opportunity, you at least want to feel like the various groups within the organization have a voice and are represented as you're trying to get that input and get that feedback.
CRISTEN: I don't think we have any more time for questions, so I'll put up the information for everyone.
Thank you for attending.
This has been, you know, A Practical Approach to Empathy and there are the codes for you on the slide.
And again, this is being recorded and should be sent out. So we should have a chance to review again. But, yeah, thank you so much for coming.