With a record number of workers quitting their jobs recently, many companies have been re-examining their retention strategies. Has their leadership been failing workers?
Some employers have turned to consulting giant EY for answers.
“We’ve been talking about the topic of empathy in the workplace for quite some time and a few months back, looking at the stress levels within society, everything that’s happened with Covid, looking at the increased levels of turnover within our clients and within our profession, we decided to [do a] study,” Marcelo Bartholo, deputy vice chair of consulting at EY, told Yahoo Finance.
Few workers can say that the pandemic hasn’t impacted both their work and personal lives in some way, but many bosses have willfully or unwittingly ignored their plights.
In the EY study published on Oct. 14, 54% of workers said they had quit a previous job because their boss wasn’t empathetic to challenges they were facing at work, while 49% left because of a lack of sensitivity to struggles in their personal lives.
Seventy-nine percent of employees agreed that empathy in leadership decreased employee turnover. (EY US commissioned a third-party vendor to survey 1,010 Americans employed either full-time or part-time between July 1 and July 12, 2021.)
“Empathetic leadership is one of the key drivers for the experiences that people have within their workplace, and frankly, perhaps, the biggest contributor to whether somebody decides to stay or go from their roles,” said Bartholo. “[Workers] decide to leave because they feel like their bosses don’t understand them or hear them in terms of their needs both at work and at life.”
While empathy has been known to help build trust, employees have grown wary of disingenuous overtures. In the study, nearly half of workers said that their employers’ efforts to be empathetic were dishonest.
Forty-two percent of employees in the survey criticized their company for failing to live up to its promises.
“The real opportunity that every organization has is to balance what we think of as programmatic ways of looking at empathy in the workplace and things that you’re doing around wellness and wellbeing, things you’re doing around your [paid time off] policies, but really focus on the one-on-one relationships that your leaders have within your workforce,” said Bartholo.
Those relationships are the biggest driver of building trust in a company, according to Ernst & Young. “If an organization can really drive a culture of connectivity at the individual level, we think this can really help change [those statistics] going forward,” said Bartholo.
The vast majority of employees – 85% – said empathetic leadership increased productivity among workers. Workers described an empathetic leader as someone whose top qualities were being open and transparent, fair, and trusted to follow through.
“These are really simple things for anyone to do,” said Bartholo. “The biggest driver of people perhaps leaving an organization is actually something fairly straightforward to implement and the characteristics are things that all leaders have the ability to develop.”
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