There has been a lot of discussion lately about emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and empathy in the workplace. And for good reason. These are trends that many of the most forward thinking companies and managers have embraced in order to help improve their employees’ lives.
By taking an active interest in the well-being of the employee, managers encourage better, more consistent work. Showing a human sensitivity (empathy) is very much a part of that. But being empathetic in the workplace is a two-sided coin, and the flip side is not without negative consequences.
Empathy is a tool like any other. It’s not a policy. It is a tool that, when used in good faith, can help enhance the psychological safety experienced by employees. That doesn’t mean you need to walk around looking for ways to be empathetic, but rather that you should be aware of its capabilities for changing people’s experience in a positive way.
Empathy can be a detriment to the organization when used by the wrong person. Everyone can (and should) display empathy at work, but in order for it to work for a manager, it needs to be employed by someone who isn’t going to get walked all over. They need to be empathetic and understanding, but equally firm and serious.
Empathy can be taken advantage of by the right person. If your version of empathy manifests itself as Mr. Nice Guy in the office, there will always be at least one employee who can sniff that out like blood in the water. They will take advantage of your niceness and use it to actually harm the company rather than help it.
So when you think about concepts like empathy and how to use them in the workplace, remember that they are tools rather than blanket policies. It’s important to create safe spaces for your employees, but you also don’t want to get walked all over. Want to discuss a problem regarding empathy in the workplace? Get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.