Leadership Pro Tip: Make Empathy Your Great Resignation Firewall

By embracing empathy in your leadership approach, you might inspire employees to stick around.

If your association is getting a little nervous about the effects of the Great Resignation, you might be looking for tactical ways to keep your team happy. That was the topic of our recent interview with HR expert Mary Ellen Brennan.

But fighting the leadership void caused by mass resignations also comes down to how the people at the top handle their roles as leaders. And in that arena, empathy is everything.

What’s the Strategy?

A new study from the consulting firm Ernst & Young (EY) finds that a lack of empathy from leadership is driving employees to leave their jobs. A lack of empathy around work issues was cited by 54 percent of respondents as a reason for leaving an employer, with 46 percent citing a lack of empathy around personal lives.

For employers, it’s an opportunity to emphasize compassion in their workplaces. But there are potential pitfalls, including a lingering concern shared by many respondents (46 percent) that empathy efforts feel dishonest. So taking the time to embrace empathy in a genuine way can show some serious results.

“Our research finds that empathy is not only a nice-to-have, but the glue and accelerant for business transformation in the next era of business,” said Steve Payne, EY Americas’ vice chairman of consulting, in a news release. “Empathy’s ability to create a culture of trust and innovation is unmatched, and this previously overlooked trait must be at the forefront of businesses across all industries.”

Why Is It Effective?

Consciously developing compassion is something that leaders of all stripes can work toward. In fact, many already did so during the worst of the pandemic.

In a recent interview with Fortune, Kristin Peck, CEO of the drug firm Zoetis, noted that during the start of the pandemic she spent more time looking for opportunities to do more listening, which led the company to boost services to employees based on the needs she heard.

“What the pandemic did was make everybody realize we were all in the same storm, but our boats were quite different,” Peck told the outlet. “We had to become very clear about the importance of listening to people, and understanding their needs, and being flexible.”

What’s the Potential?

Association leaders who nurture their employees and show serious concern about their needs are more likely to win over their staffs; per the Ernst & Young study, 88 percent of employees say that empathetic leadership can inspire positive change—and 87 percent of employees say that it boosts trust between employees and leaders.

If done right, empathy can actually strengthen a worker’s bond with their employer, leading employees to work harder in support of their employer.

The most important part to take from this, however: Even if empathy seems like a skill set foreign to you, it is a skill that can be learned. You just have to be willing to take the steps forward.

And at a time when your team might be struggling, it could be a smart shift in the right direction.

(Roman Didkivskyi/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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