Here’s a fun fact: A study found that rats are willing to give up a taste of chocolate in order to save a drowning companion. Elephants are also known to demonstrate caring behaviors toward one another; doing everything from plucking tranquilizer darts out of each other to mourning the deaths of their family. What do these examples all have in common? They’re all incredible acts of empathy. Believe it or not, there’s a lot we can learn from the animal kingdom about the power of empathy - especially when it comes to applying it in the workplace. Let’s dive into this topic below.
Watch our Cofounder and COO Kevin Yip present "Survive or Thrive: A lesson from elephants and rats for developing organizational empathy" live at From Day One Boston, 2019.
The role of empathy in an organization
The type of empathy you practice in the workplace is also known as Organizational Empathy. It describes a company’s ability to understand the thoughts, feelings, motivations, and conditions of others - whether that’s employees, partners, or communities - from their respective point of view.
Over the past few years, Organizational Empathy has become a much more important practice in the workplace. Why? Because the way we think about work has changed. In the late 20th century, you worked for your paycheck, clocked out at 5 pm, and left your work at the office. This attitude evolved as people recognized how difficult it is to keep work and life completely separated. So in the late ‘90s and 2000s, the focus became work-life balance.
Today, we’re undergoing another shift. People are tired of having to choose between their work and life. Work is simply one part of an individual. Just as family, friends, personal development, self-expression, and passions comprise parts of a person’s identity as well. That’s why employees today are choosing to focus on work-life integration. And that’s where Organizational Empathy comes in. This practice helps employers understand the other parts of their employees’ whole self and create ways to support those other areas.
The components of Organizational Empathy
To practice Organizational Empathy, there are five components that need to be taken into consideration. We outline each of them below and share examples of how we apply each component at Blueboard:
Resources can come in the form of programs (such as employee recognition programs or employee wellbeing programs), capital, or even people - depending on the situation. It’s about anticipating the needs of your employees and providing them with what they need to succeed. Blueboard recently opened a second office in San Diego. With this growth, some employees expressed that they found it more challenging to connect with the leadership team. To get ahead of this issue, the co-founders decided to host rotating weekly office hours where people schedule time to connect about the vision of the company, advice on how to think about specific challenges in their role, and culture-related questions.
Benefits are another way to drive employee engagement and help your employees practice better work-life integration. For instance, Blueboard offers unlimited PTO. To avoid having the program be underutilized, there’s a “minimum 12 days of PTO” policy. That way, all employees are encouraged to take time off while setting minimum and measurable expectations. As a result, our employees averaged around 19 PTO days last year - not including holidays.
This is about defining what leadership means at your organization and how it’s developed and supported. At Blueboard, we’ve helped several employees step into their first leadership roles and given them the tools they need to succeed. These leadership resources include everything from a learning and development budget to an informal mentorship program.
4. Places & Spaces
This is the type of working environment you create for your people. Ask yourself: Is your office conducive to collaboration? At Blueboard, there are a couple things we know to be true: 1. people don’t like commuting; and 2. people value uninterrupted time to put their heads down and get stuff done. So when employees are fully onboarded and trained, we offer Work from Home Wednesdays where people can cut their commute time, prioritize the work that requires heads-down focus, and get their laundry done.
Values serve as the foundation for organizational empathy and create alignment across the rest of the components. The reason why values are the foundation is because they’re the only component that both an organization and employee share. This is why we believe values need to be people centric. During our onboarding, we walk new “Blueboarders” through our values, tell their story, and encourage employees to share personal stories of when they lived that value.
How we approach Organizational Empathy at Blueboard
When Blueboard first launched, the vision of the co-founders was to create a company that’s connected and truly knows our employees – not just their work selves, but their whole selves. As we shared in the examples above, this approach has manifested itself across every aspect of our company, from learning and development to performance reviews to team events, and employee wellbeing programs.
We’re incredibly proud of the culture we built, and Organizational Empathy has played a huge role. It’s the reason we’ve only had two people voluntarily leave Blueboard since we started hiring in 2015. Now we’re 85 employees across three offices, which means we’ve had a turnover rate of around 2.5% over four years (far less than the average 19% The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) assessed across all industries in mid-2017).
With this shift to work-life integration in an employee-driven market, people’s expectations are changing. The modern employee wants purpose and recognition, not just a paycheck. Relationships, not just colleagues. Personal growth, not just career growth. To be relevant and competitive in today’s workforce, companies need to invest in the people who serve the business - and not just their work selves, but their whole selves.
If you want to learn more about how experiential rewards and employee appreciation can help you promote Organizational Empathy at your organization, we’d love to chat! To get in touch with our team, simply reach out via the Request Demo button above ^^.