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The Value of Empathy in the Workplace

Aug 31, 2015

A lack of empathy in the workplace can have disastrous consequences on productivity and happiness. 

It has been approximately two weeks since the New York Times published a story that shed light deep into Amazon’s questionable corporate culture, revealing a controversy that made corporate America’s treatment of employees an issue of national concern. The article – which heavily relied on anecdotal evidence from former Amazon employees – uncovered a plethora of unimaginable workplace nightmares that ranged from sociopathic managers denying bereavement leave to a woman whose father was suffering from cancer to regularly scheduled ambulance visits for Amazon’s excessively overworked employees. 

These stories resonated with the hundreds of millions of office dwellers throughout the world who have dealt with difficult workplaces and the toll they take on one’s mental and physical well-being.  Naturally, experts from various human resource and business disciplines weighed in on the detrimental consequences of working for a non-empathetic employer with little regard for the humans it employs.

According to Amazon spokesperson Jay Carney, the monolithic retailer has “zero tolerance for behavior by managers that is not empatheticIn a recent Forbes article, Rodd Wagner, the author of Widgets: The 12 New Rules for Managing Your Employees As If They’re Real Peopleandemployee engagement practice leader at BI WORLDWIDE, argues that whether or not Amazon’s “empathy” policies are followed, workplace empathy should be practiced by all companies – and we agree.

Specifically, Wagner reminds us that happier employees work harder and outperform unhappy employees and makes the following points to support his argument:

  • A company that lacks empathy lacks a sound strategy.
  • According to a Harvard Medical School study, the qualities of “bad bosses” are proven to negatively affect employee health over time.
  • The aforementioned “bad bosses” and leaders will rationalize their stress-inducing and un-empathetic management style, even though such behavior is scientifically proven to not improve employee performance or organizational productivity.  
  • Management through the use of fear works – but in very limited ways. Wagner’s own research concludes that people work harder on “both ends of the intimidation scale than they do in the middle”, but people that work out of enthusiasm will drive better performance than their fear-motivated counterparts.

Ultimately, an organization that makes people its top priority is positioned for success. Please take a few minutes to read Rodd’s full Forbes article for more details on the impact of an un-empathetic workplace. 

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