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Building Empathy to Address Critical Talent Gaps

Talent challenges continue to be a priority for most agencies across the federal government. Frequent turnover, hard to fill roles, and shortages in mission-critical skill sets are all too common in most federal agencies.

There are countless strategies and approaches agency leaders can, and have, tried to address these complex challenges. But, building organizational empathy may be just the tool HR leaders need to make a near term impact.

Building organizational empathy is a strategic element for organizations trying to hire and retain top talent in an increasingly tight labor market. Research by the benefits technology firm, Business Solver in their State of Workplace Empathy report reveals that empathy is a key driver of retention, motivation and productivity. More than 90% of employees surveyed indicated they were more likely to stay with an empathetic employer. In fact, respondents were even willing to trade off hours and pay in favor of increased empathy.

In an increasingly competitive talent environment, building a culture of empathy should be a key part of the people strategy in all organizations.

Building Empathy in Your Organization
So, how can leaders increase empathy in their organization? A 2016 report by the World Economic Forum looked across highly empathetic companies to identify common practices that any organization can apply to improve empathy:

  1. They care about their cultures – Every organization has a culture that shapes behavior and drives performance. In the most empathetic organizations, the culture is intentionally shaped and managed. Leaders prioritize creating a workplace where people-centered behaviors are recognized and rewarded. And individuals are consistently recognized for delivering empathetic customer experience. By intentionally creating cultures that inspire engagement and commitment, high empathy organizations improve outcomes through high-quality employee experience.
  2. They insist on transparency – Companies scoring high on the empathy index resist the urge to cover up and deflect attention from uncomfortable truths. Instead, they see full disclosure as the first step in dealing with challenges. They embrace the opportunity to engage their workforce in productive problem-solving processes that drive progress toward needed improvements. And, they recognize and reward efforts to challenge the status quo.
  3. Their social media practices reflect strong empathy – Social media provides an unprecedented capability for organizations to dialog directly with their customers and employees. Organizations high on the empathy index capitalize on the opportunity to interact with their stakeholders through social media. And take advantage of the opportunity social media provides deliver messages with authenticity and humanity to a broad audience.
  4. They see customer complaints as opportunities for insight – It can be tempting to ignore customer complaints or chalk them up as coming from the far extremes of your customer base. And, in fact, a 2011 study by research company evolve24 found that only about 29% of customer complaints on Twitter received a response. But highly empathetic organizations recognize that even the most extreme negative feedback represents an emotional response from the customer that provides an opportunity for insight. Learning to learn from all forms of customer feedback is key to building a more empathetic organization.
  5. They make ethics a priority – Similar to the bias towards transparency exhibited by high empathy organizations, organizations scoring high on the index also prioritize ethics. In the words of the World Economic Forum, high empathy organizations always have someone asking “should we” instead of “can we”. Employee expectations around ethical conduct are high – as they should be. Organizations that want to retain key talent must maintain the highest standards of ethics in all aspects of operations and decision making.

Additional Resources
Building organizational empathy is a strong way to improve the employee value proposition for your agency. With serious commitment from leaders, becoming a more empathetic organization is a great way to address your critical talent shortages. For other retention strategies and tips, consider this advice from Scott Span or these insights from Ken Lee on GovLoop. Or check out this great tool from GovLoop if you want to build your own personal empathy at work.

Tim Bowden is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. He is partner at Gotham Government Services, and is most energized when he’s exploring how the intersection of culture, people, and strategy drive business results. For nearly 20 years he has collaborated with clients in the public, private, and non-profit sectors to address mission-critical challenges in the areas of culture, leadership development, and learning. Additionally, Tim has experience in the design and analysis of survey-based measures of culture, employee engagement, and interpersonal skills. He has provided executive advisory, learning, and organizational culture programs for the Marine Corps Systems Command, Treasury Executive Institute, Department of Labor, and the Naval Sea Systems Command.

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Amy DeWolf

This is a great post! I couldn’t agree more with this point “they see customer complaints as opportunities for insight” Listening to our customers and not being in a bubble of what we think is best is truly how you make sure people are heard, and better meet the needs/demands of everyone.

Stephanie Smith

i learned something about empathy and described how dedication does the emplyer had been laboring disregard to their time schedules because they want to be sure their customer to be happy.