Building a Culture of Care: Promoting Empathy in the Workplace

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Right now as you read this, you’re feeling something. Maybe it’s approaching lunchtime and you’re feeling hungry. Or perhaps it’s been a difficult week and you’re feeling exhausted, ready for the weekend. Maybe you’re even feeling a bit anxious or sad or thrilled with what you’ve accomplished lately. Regardless of what you’re feeling, you’re in a position to relate to someone else who may be feeling exactly the same way. That’s what empathy is — the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions or experiences of others. 

New research shows that empathy has a direct impact on employee productivity, loyalty, and engagement. Although establishing corporate culture starts with leadership at the top, every employee plays a role in spreading that culture because we are all a living, breathing part of it. For that reason, we’re exploring ways both companies and individuals can do their part to facilitate a culture of empathy and build a business culture everyone wants to be a part of, and no one wants to leave.

1. Show interest. Your co-workers and employees are human beings with their own goals, needs and challenges. Take an interest in who they are outside of work and get to know them as people, not just "worker bees." Invest time to connect with them on a deeper level and you'll build long-term relationships of trust and respect.

2. Unite the team with purpose. Ensure that whatever the company stands for, your team stands with you. Employees can connect and make a difference both in and beyond the company if they embody its purpose every day on the job. Establish volunteer outings, explore creative ideas that promote company values and advance the mission together, so the team belongs to something bigger than themselves.

3. Listen reflexively. Listening demonstrates support. Reflexive listening is even more valuable because you are not just supporting; you are helping to problem solve. In a world where 30% of employees feel their opinions don’t matter, it’s even more important to let your colleagues talk freely and vent. Restate their concerns to validate how they feel. Ask questions that answer who/what/where/why/when so they can identify paths forward with your objective guidance. Then dig deeper with them to arrive at a solution. 

4. Include, don’t exclude. Research reveals that diverse, inclusive cultures are more productive and innovative. Their employees are also more loyal, satisfied and engaged. Accept people as they are and look for ways to foster inclusivity--as you hire, as you promote, as you communicate with your team and establish new benefits/policies. When everyone feels valued and taken care of, they, in turn, will value, and care more about, each other.

5. Coach others who need support. There is no better time to demonstrate empathy and “be a coach” than when a colleague is struggling personally or professionally. A survey of executives found that about half of managers only spend 10% of their time coaching. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise then that 85% of millennials surveyed said they would feel more confident if they could have more frequent conversations with managers. If you see a co-worker or direct report who needs help, step in to coach him or her through the challenge. Help him/her assess scenarios and create an action plan to overcome the issue. Recent research indicates that giving people advice helps boost your own confidence too, so consider how a mentor role can be mutually beneficial in the long term. 

6. Give comfort and demonstrate care. Demonstrating empathy shows others you care about their well-being and they are not alone. A warm hug, a follow-up note or an invitation to grab coffee/take a walk outside the office in a neutral environment gives the gift of your time and attention to others. A little extra comfort and support goes a long way toward fulfilling their emotional need.

7. Adopt a selfless vs selfish perspective. When you think beyond yourself, you are naturally more sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. You are hardwired to give back vs get more, and that selfless perspective makes it easier to identify with your co-workers or employees and relate to their challenges. You are driven to help, so others can overcome and succeed. As a result, you are a better leader and a better friend.

8. Develop a “mindfulness plan.” Being present and getting more in touch with yourself makes it easier to be available for others when they need you most. Set aside ten minutes a day to be more "mindful" — whether it's through meditation or focused breathing, an app like Headspace or a book like Positive Intelligence, all of these tools can help center your core so you can maintain clarity and focus throughout the day.

9. Be truthful and transparent. Always. Without exception. You may have to engage in difficult conversations, but it will build long term trust. When you are authentic and upfront, others know you lack a hidden agenda and they can count on your honest leadership.

10. Extend gratitude. Publicly recognizing others for their achievements and personally extending a heartfelt thanks says that individual contributions have value to the entire organization. Employees are more willing to go above and beyond when they know their work is appreciated.

For additional tips on how to promote empathetic cultures while being fearless at work and in life, please visit Wet Cement at



Jennifer Willey

Jennifer is the founder and CEO of Wet Cement. Her company helps organizations and individuals ‘make their mark,’ by accelerating professional and personal growth through leadership development, gender equality program design and deployment, and public speaking/presentation training and coaching. Founder and CEO Jennifer Willey combines her 20+ years of corporate experience, on-air experience as a TV news anchor and reporter, and lessons learned as a global keynote speaker and brand for companies such as PWC, Verizon Media/ AOL, WebMD and Yahoo! to help others achieve their potential.