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What Role Does Empathy Play in the Modern Workplace?

Happy and engaged employees are the backbone of any successful company. When employees are happy at work, they generally are more productive, which boosts the overall performance of an organization.

A recent study conducted by Businessolver showed that one thing in particular greatly influences worker engagement – employer empathy.

Defined as “the ability to experience and relate to the emotions or experiences of others,” empathy plays a critical role in employee happiness, engagement, and productivity.

Let’s explore the data from the survey, and see just how employees and employers feel about empathy’s role in the modern workplace.


The 2018 State of Workplace Empathy survey was conducted by Businessolver from mid-to-late January 2018.

The audience of the survey was broken out into 4 main groups: employees (1,000 participants), HR professionals (100 participants), CEOs (150 participants), and industry employees (600 participants).

The first interesting finding in the report is that 68% of CEOs say the state of empathy needs to change. And judging by the response of employees, it’s easy to see why CEOs think this way.

96% of employees believe that it is important for their employer to show empathy. Additionally, 92% of employees feel that empathy remains undervalued. This means that a significant opportunity is available for employers as we move through 2018 and beyond.

Another eye-opening finding is that 87% of CEOs believe that the financial performance of a company is tied to workforce empathy. Also, over 80% of all respondents agree that an empathetic workplace has a positive impact on the performance of a business.

The survey also found that 90% of employees are more likely to stay with an employer that empathized with their needs (lowering turnover), and 80% said that they would work longer hours for an empathetic employer.


The findings from the Businessolver report show that businesses today need to take actions to improve workplace empathy.

More than 50% of employees struggle to show empathy at work, compared to 34% of HR professionals and 45% of CEOs.

The report uncovered that all groups surveyed have a strong desire for training to help improve empathy.

Here is how each group responded to their desire of participating in skills training including internal and external workshops, online courses, and one-on-one coaching:

  • Employees – 80%
  • HR professionals – 80%
  • CEOs – 90%

Next, the survey dove deeper into methods and practices that can help improve workplace empathy. All groups agree that 3 main actions have the biggest impact on improving empathy:

  • Respecting the need for PTO for family or medical issues
  • Offering flexible work schedules and hours
  • Recognizing employee milestones

The survey also found that 90% of employees, HR professionals, and CEOs say that face-to-face meetings are the most empathetic way to communicate.

One interesting area where all three groups aren’t aligned is around technology’s impact on empathy. 70% of CEOs and 66% of HR professionals believe personalized technology tools make a company more empathetic. However, less than half of employees agree with this.


The next part of the survey explored actions that each surveyed group view as being empathetic.

When it comes to benefits, employees rated traditional benefits (health insurance, 401k, paid leave, etc.) as empathetic. Further diving into benefits and the role they play in workplace empathy, employees said that lowering the cost of benefits is the most empathetic behavior an employer could take.

Meanwhile, CEOs and HR professionals see providing a wider offering of benefits as most empathetic.

The survey also broke the responses to empathetic behaviors down by gender. Men and women agreed that flexible working hours and schedules are very important, but they differed in some areas as well.

Men identified recognizing personal accomplishments as being the most empathetic. Women, however, rated collaborative behaviors (such as one-on-one talks about work challenges) as most important.


The 39-page report goes into a lot of detail around the many findings from the survey. In addition to the above findings, here are a few more interesting stats that are found in the report.

One question asked each group how likely they would be to leave their employer if it became less empathetic:

  • 79% of employees said they would consider leaving, which is up from 72% in 2017.
  • 90% of HR professionals said they’d consider leaving, up from 76% in 2017.
  • And perhaps the most surprising finding from the survey, 89% of CEOs said they would consider leaving their own company, up from 75% in 2017.

Diversity also plays a role in workplace empathy. 81% of CEOs believe that having more women in leadership positions would increase organizational empathy.

Employers who actively seek to improve workplace empathy by implementing new practices and engaging employees stand to benefit the most, and ultimately achieve greater business success.

What’s the difference between co-employment and employee leasing? Check out our eBook, Co-Employment vs. Employee Leasing: The Differences Brokers (and Clients) Should Know, to learn more about how different they really are!

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