December 6, 2023

Practice empathy at work and create safe spaces

Empathy is one of the most valuable skills a person can have. And yes, it really is a skill. Encouraging the practice of empathy at work can have immense benefits for your organization as a whole, as it can create positive interpersonal relationships and improve workflow processes and overall performance. So let’s go over the basics of how to show empathy and how to embrace it in the workplace.

The main pillars and benefits of empathic behavior at work

In general, empathic behavior centers around two pillars: exceptional listening skills and the ability to perceive and relate to another person’s situation or thought process. When it comes to professional environments, both employees and leaders should try to put themselves in each other’s shoes to better understand different perspectives and experiences. Empathy fosters a shared sense of connection between colleagues and in turn builds a stronger team dynamic. In addition, empathy promotes healthier leadership styles. Ultimately, being a good leader requires empathetic thinking, and being able to connect with your people improves engagement and performance in the workplace.

How to show empathy at work

1. Respect boundaries

Applying empathy to your professional interactions without overstepping other people’s boundaries can be challenging. Even with the best intentions, not knowing your co-workers’ boundaries can make them feel uncomfortable or cause unnecessary stress. Therefore, you should make it a common practice to gauge their boundaries before attempting to make a connection. Another crucial thing is to foster a safe environment that encourages healthy dialogue. This will make it easier for your employees to speak up when their boundaries are crossed. Setting boundaries is also a form of self-preservation and self-care; employees who take care of their emotional well-being avoid burnout and achieve better results.

2. Burnout detection

Burnout can cause stress in employees’ lives both inside and outside the office. Leaders should be equipped to detect burnout in their employees and have a strategy to address problems early. Reducing workload, encouraging time off, and revising their break policies are empathetic steps a leader can take to reduce burnout on their team. Additionally, empathy itself can cause burnout – empaths are highly intuitive, emotionally sensitive people, meaning they can feel the emotions of others as deeply as their own. Emotional burnout is just as important as physical burnout.

3. Customize your work schedules

A high-performing team consists of people who focus on their strengths and work together to complement each other. If you want your company to achieve its goals, you need to invest in your people on an individual level. Each member of your team has a different work ethic and needs different incentives. Discover your team’s preferences and try to accommodate their work schedules as much as possible. Considering the needs of your employees allows them to focus on their strengths, which increases confidence and productivity. However, practicing empathy also gives you the opportunity to tactfully and respectfully highlight their personal areas for improvement.

4. Confirm and listen

Active listening is the cornerstone of empathic behavior. Teach your employees to be proactive listeners by cultivating a company culture focused on open dialogue that can defuse tensions before they arise and create positive connections between team members. Acknowledging and listening to your co-workers’ experiences can also help alleviate some of their stress and reduce the likelihood of burnout because each team member knows they have a support system in place.

5. Check in regularly

A one-on-one check-in between employees and senior management can clarify any troubling experiences your team members may have had, giving you a chance to address them before things escalate. This approach fosters a well-balanced work environment where conflict is resolved promptly and proactively, with empathy at the center of attention. You can also create peer groups where employees can share their experiences and concerns in a more comfortable and collaborative environment.

How to embrace empathy

1. Set and protect your boundaries

As mentioned above, setting healthy boundaries is paramount to ensuring everyone’s well-being. They are wellness maps that help others navigate the sometimes choppy waters of social interaction. Establishing and protecting your own boundaries is therefore equally important. In a professional setting, it can be difficult to admit that your boundaries have been crossed, especially if you’re concerned that it might lead to conflict. However, not creating healthy boundaries can take its toll on performance and productivity in the workplace.

2. Allow others to help

If you feel like there’s too much on your plate and the quality of your work is compromised, it’s healthy to ask someone else to carry some of the load. We are not machines and cannot work at 100% efficiency all the time. Asking for and accepting outside help means accepting someone else’s empathy, which also helps build healthy bonds between co-workers. Finally, companies should strive for a culture of mutual respect and support so that everyone knows they can express their emotions without fear of being judged.


Empathy is a learnable skill that every organization should cultivate, both in its culture and in its day-to-day processes. Empathic behavior in a professional setting cultivates a safe space for open communication to flourish and enables healthier leadership habits. To ensure the well-being of your company and your people, be sure to encourage and model empathy as a daily practice.

What do modern employees really want and how can leaders help build a strong culture that meets their needs and expectations? Download The Future Of Work Report 2022: Culture Trends and What Employees to learn how to create a great workplace that attracts and retains top talent.

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