Understanding the importance of empathy in the workplace

Understanding the importance of empathy in the workplace

In the complex puzzle of the modern workplace, one thread stands out as the catalyst for harmonious collaboration, increased productivity, and greater job satisfaction: empathy. More than just a buzzword, empathy is the foundation of a thriving organizational culture, enabling connections across job titles and departments. In this piece, we will look at the importance of empathy in the workplace, exploring its profound impact on teamwork, leadership, and the overall state of people within an organization.

What is empathy?

Let’s start by defining empathy and how it differs from sympathy, as many people use the two terms interchangeably:

Empathy is the capacity to express compassion for another person without having personally undergone similar experiences. For a manager, this involves comprehending their perspective, conveying understanding, and responding thoughtfully to their emotions, thoughts, and circumstances.

Sympathy, on the other hand, is when a person feels sorry for someone else’s experience because they can relate to what he or she is going through. It involves recognizing another person’s suffering without necessarily sharing their emotional state.

In other words, while sympathy involves acknowledging and feeling sorry for someone’s situation, empathy goes further by connecting with and understanding the other person’s emotions on a more personal level. Empathy involves a deeper emotional resonance and a shared sense of understanding.

Empathy in the workplace is important for many reasons, as it contributes to a positive and healthy working environment. Cultivating empathy enables leaders to make meaningful connections and build deep trust with each team member. Empathy is now a mandatory skill for successful leaders, as they work with people from different teams, departments, countries, cultures, and backgrounds

For example, according to the 2023 Ernst & Young LLP) Empathy in Business Survey, the majority (86%) of employees believe empathetic leadership boosts morale while 87% of employees say empathy is essential to fostering an inclusive environment.

Read more: Decoding workplace stress: exploring its causes, effects, and strategies for employers to reduce it

Benefits of empathy in the workplace

Empathy in the workplace is not just a soft skill; it is a fundamental aspect of creating a positive, productive, and inclusive organizational culture. It builds strong relationships, encourages collaboration, and contributes to the overall success and prosperity of both employees and the organization as a whole.

According to the EY study, some benefits of empathetic leadership in the workplace are:

  • Inspiring positive change within the workplace (87%):

Empathy encourages better communication and understanding among team members. When people can relate to and understand each other’s perspectives, it becomes easier to collaborate effectively.

  • Mutual respect between employees and leaders (87%):

Empathy at work increases mutual respect among employees by fostering understanding, acknowledging diverse perspectives, and creating a climate where people feel valued and heard.

Empathy also plays a crucial role in resolving conflicts. Conflicts can be addressed more constructively when individuals can understand each other’s feelings and motivations. It helps in finding solutions that are mutually beneficial and promote a healthier work environment.

  • Increased productivity among employees (85%)

Employees who feel understood and supported by their colleagues and superiors are likely to experience higher job satisfaction and morale. This positive emotional state can lead to increased productivity and a more enjoyable work atmosphere.

  • Reduced employee turnover (78%)

Employees are more likely to stay in a workplace where they feel valued and understood. Empathy contributes to a sense of belonging, reducing turnover rates and the costs associated with recruiting and training new employees.

In addition, according to research conducted by Catalyst, empathy has a strong impact on innovation and the ability to maintain a work-life balance.

  • Increased innovation (61%)

A significant 61% of employees say that leaders with empathy serve as a motivator for innovation, while only 13% express the same sentiment for leaders with lower levels of empathy.

  • Better work-life balance (86%)

When leaders demonstrate higher levels of empathy, employees say they are able to successfully manage the demands of work and life, effectively balancing personal, family, and work commitments.

Read more: Mobbing at work: Understanding the difference between mobbing and bullying and how to address them

How to build empathy in the workplace

As reported in the EY study, half (52%) of employees currently believe that their company’s efforts to be empathetic to employees are dishonest – up from 46% in 2021 – and employees are increasingly reporting a lack of follow-through when it comes to company promises (47% compared to 42% in 2021).

Here is how leaders can manifest empathy in the workplace, demonstrating a genuine understanding and concern for others, according to Harvard Business Review:

  • Active listening and curiosity:

Taking the time to listen attentively to colleagues demonstrates empathy. This involves giving full attention, asking clarifying questions, and summarizing to ensure a complete understanding of the other person’s perspective. During the listening process, cultivate curiosity about the factors impacting him or her.

  • Provide support, not necessarily a solution:

Leaders, often accustomed to providing solutions, should recognize that in matters involving personal or emotional challenges, the best approach may be to offer support and a listening ear rather than attempting to solve every problem. It’s essential to give employees the space to express themselves and feel heard, allowing for genuine care and understanding.

  • Be flexible and avoid reacting automatically:

Avoiding automatic responses is key to authentic empathy. Recognize that empathy varies for each team member; a tailored, thoughtful approach is necessary. When faced with personal challenges, take time to understand other’s needs before responding. Instead of assuming, ask about the level of support they need, respecting their boundaries. Maintaining a flexible approach is essential to truly understand and support employees.

  • ​​Prioritize your team:

Consistently prioritize making time for your team, even in busy moments. When faced with a time constraint during a crucial meeting or other important activity, be transparent about your situation and express a sincere commitment to follow up. Take the initiative to schedule a future meeting yourself, demonstrating genuine care and support. Following through on that commitment is crucial for building trust and reinforcing your priorities as a leader.

Read more: Toxic workplace culture: recognizing the signs and navigating the solutions

Is empathy an innate quality or something that can be learned?

Luckily, empathy is not a fixed trait and it can be developed. Implementing empathy training for leaders and managers enhances their ability to understand and connect with the emotions and experiences of their team members.

Through tailored interventions, Addezia’s specialists can help you develop empathy and build better relationships with your colleagues, ultimately leading to a more supportive work environment and a successful organization.


The profound impact of empathy in the workplace cannot be overstated. It emerges as the key to encouraging collaboration, improving communication, and building authentic connections. The ability to understand and respond to the needs, challenges, and aspirations of our colleagues transforms organizational cultures, creating spaces where employees feel valued, heard, and supported.

Leaders who embrace empathy not only cultivate a positive work environment but also inspire positive change. In a world that often emphasizes productivity and results, we should remember that the heart of a thriving workplace lies in the compassion and understanding we show one another. By embracing empathy, we not only improve the quality of our professional relationships but also lay the foundation for resilient, collaborative, and successful organizations.


Harvard Business Review

Ernst & Young



Center for Creative Leadership


Images source Freepik.com

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