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The Empathy Gap and How You Can Close It

The 2019 State of Workplace Empathy Study (SWES) identified that employees are prioritising organisations who value empathy, despite this, there are gaps which remain between employees and leadership roles when it comes to displaying empathy in the workplace.

What is Empathy?

Empathy is the ability to recognise and understand what others are feeling. Furthermore, it involves understanding the underlying reasons for another person’s behaviour.

Empathy is crucial for successful leaders as it allows them to understand feelings and thus creates meaningful connections. This, in turn, stimulates commitment and dedication. Empathy in the workplace has been found to increase the acceptance of diversity, enabling employees to respect and relate to people with various backgrounds and cultures.

The 2019 SWES identified some key statistics when it comes to empathy:

  • 82% of employees would consider leaving their job for a more empathetic organisation
  • 78% of employees would work longer hours for a more empathetic employer
  • 72% of CEOs say the state of empathy must evolve; this is a 15% increase from last year’s figures

Like any organisational change, an organisation will not be deemed empathic overnight. It is hereby essential to begin integrating empathy into your company culture in several ways. However, before you can decide when to implement, you need to decide what to implement and why.

How to Utilise Empathy Mapping

Empathy mapping is an incredibly useful tool for understanding not only your employees but how your stakeholders experience your organisation. This understanding will allow a more precise interpretation of the drivers behind the decision-making processes of your stakeholders; essentially helping you answer the question ‘Why?’.

When empathy mapping for your employees consider the following:

Think & Feel

  • What matters to your employees? Why?
  • What might worry your employees?
  • What are your employees’ aspirations?


  • What are the external environments of your employees?
  • What else does the market offer your employees?


  • What do your employees hear from external factors (including the media, their social circles, etc.)?

Say & Do

  • What are your employees communicating to you directly?
  • What are the attitudes in public at large? Moreover, how might these influence your employees?


  • What pain points might the employees’ experience?


  • What is the employee’s ultimate goal?
  • What are they trying to achieve?

Empathy in the workplace

Once empathy mapping has allowed you to empathise with your employees, you can begin to close the gap by implementing specific initiatives that display your empathy.

Listen & Ask Questions

Leaders who listen display more empathic qualities as they want to understand what challenges their team faces. Ensure you strive to make meaningful connections with your employees. The SWES found that particularly from CEOs, their empathy was best demonstrated through creating personal relationships with their employees and recognising an employee’s professional milestones.

Employee benefits schemes

The SWES identified that 92 per cent of employees said companies that offer emergency financial assistance are more empathetic. At the core of this, employees want their employers to empathise with their everyday lives by promoting balance and flexibility. This can be demonstrated by re-assessing jobs of those who work over regular working hours, encouraging breaks and providing mental health leave days. Providing employee benefits specific to family, such as flexible working hours and daycare shows empathy, according to 95% of surveyed employees.

Mental health

The study also found shocking statistics surrounding mental health including 80 per cent of participant employees, HR Professionals and CEOs who said companies would portray people negatively if they have a mental health issue. This suggests that action is required immediately in all levels of an organisation. Create an environment which encourages reaching out for help. Many companies offer free psychology services for employees and their families. R U OK day is another excellent way to initiate initiatives to begin the conversation. Companies that provide support for mental health are leaders in exhibiting empathy.

Lead by example

Lastly, leaders are models of behaviour and can set standards within the workplace. Leaders can create an environment of empathy by modelling this in their behaviour. By fostering this environment, it will create a continual flow of empathy throughout the organisation.

If you or someone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Empathy is largely underrated in the workplace but core to our leadership programs. If your organisation is interested in increasing its leadership capabilities, contact us for more information.



Business Solver. 2019 State of Workplace Empathy. Retrieved from 


About the author

TMS Consulting