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New research shows that empathy is most valued leadership trait

A new study, that forms part of Catalyst’s Leveraging Disruption for Equity series of reports focused on women and the future of work, finds that empathy is most valued in leadership and leads to a boost in innovation and engagement.

Empathy has always been considered vital for leaders, but with the ‘Great Resignation’ demanding change, more employees are seeing the benefit of having employers who understand their situation – seeing increasing creativity, decreased stress and increased retention of staff.

A new study of 889 employees by Catalyst found that empathy had a direct impact on the workplace – with 61% of employees more likely to report being able to be innovative, compared to 13% with less empathic leaders, as well as increased inclusivity, with 50% of those with empathetic leaders reporting that their workplace was inclusive compared to 17% from less empathetic leadership.

three people sitting in front of table laughing together

Work-Life Balance was another key factor, with 86% reporting that they were able to successfully navigate the stressful demands of their work and life, compared with 60% of those who perceived less empathy from those who managed them.

One of the major factors found with empathetic leaders was a decrease in burnout. With the long-lasting effects of the Covid-19 pandemic still affecting the workplace today, burnout was a key discussion factor, and led to decreased productivity, mental health, and employee retainment. With empathetic leaders recognising this, as well as considering mental health and other life stresses, the effect of burnout appears to seem less daunting to employees, leading to more open communication around boundaries.

Catalyst said of its findings: ‘Collectively, these findings illustrate that a large number of women have reported experiencing burnout. But they also show that empathy on the part of senior leaders and managers complement one another to foster a workplace where women are less likely to feel exhausted because of work. A culture of empathic leadership is a key ingredient for success in supporting gender equity at work.’

Whilst empathy may not be a new skill, it is one which is becoming increasingly important to foster in organisational culture, especially for marginalised people, contributing to positive relationships, increased results, and an increase in discussion around what a workplace environment really should look like.

Photo by Brooke Cagle

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