Building workplace flexibility into your company culture doesn't just show your employees you respect them, it shows you empathize with them. And that's a win-win, since empathetic companies tend to be top performers.
Businessolver, a benefits administration technology company, released its third annual State of Workplace Empathy Study in April, and the study revealed that employees, HR professionals, and CEOs all agreed that workplace flexibility can demonstrate empathy.
"It sounds simple, but flexibility for personal circumstances in the workplace proves to be a key ingredient in showing empathy," Marcy Klipfel, SVP of employee engagement at Businessolver, writes for Forbes. "In fact, it's more valued than team-building exercises. The top empathetic behaviors that employees, HR pros, and CEOs value include understanding the need for time off for family/medical issues, as well as respecting the need for flexible working hours."
(That said, it's important to note that while implementing flexibility for personal circumstances is important, it's also important to make flexibility needs-agnostic—meaning, not administered on an as-needed basis for a certain person or group of individuals. Flexibility shouldn't be doled out as a perk or special favor, but rather offered equitably to all throughout an organization based on overall employee needs, not just wants.)
Furthermore, the study found that 96 percent of employees believe it's important for their employers to demonstrate empathy, a 4-point increase over last year, and 92 percent believe empathy is undervalued, a 7-point increase over 2017. And in good news for flexibility proponents, 97 percent agreed that flexible working hours contribute to empathy.
Empathy is valued in the C-suite, too, especially because it's good for a company's bottom line. 87 percent of CEOs agreed that the financial performance of a company is tied to empathy, with 43 percent strongly agreeing.
Harvard Business Review's Empathy Index corroborates this anecdotal evidence with hard data. In 2016, HBR measured companies' empathy through ethics, leadership, company culture, brand perception, and public messaging through social media. The researchers of that study found that the top 10 most empathetic companies—which included Alphabet, Southwest Airlines, and Whole Foods—increased in value more than twice as much as the bottom 10 and generated 50 percent more earnings.
Like flexibility, empathy also has a positive impact on employee retention. Businessolver's study showed 95 percent of employees are more likely to stay with an organization that empathized with their needs. Perhaps even more impressively, 81 percent of workers would be willing to work longer hours for empathetic employers and 60 percent would be willing to take a pay cut to work for an empathetic company.
Still, while a majority of respondents were on the same page about empathy, not everyone agreed on how much is on display. Per Businessolver, 92 percent of CEOs believe their organizations are empathetic while only 50 percent of employees report having empathetic CEOs. Even more damningly, 71 percent of men believe companies today are showing empathy, compared to just 33 percent of women.
Employers have every reason to close these empathy gaps. Daniel Goleman, co-author of the best-seller Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead With Emotional Intelligence, argues that organizations live or die based on how well leaders tap into an emotional connection with their followers. Those who do it well, he says, are rewarded by happier, more harmonious teams.
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