What is Empathy and Belonging?
Empathy is often described as a complex psychological process which mainly underlines an individual’s capacity to understand others’ feelings, thoughts and emotions. It is the mere ability to ‘put oneself in another’s shoes’. Fletcher-Watson and Bird (2020) put forward a four-step process which results into a feeling of empathy:
1) Noticing someone’s emotional state
2) Interpreting the emotional state correctly
3) Actually feeling that same emotional state
4) The Motivation to Respond to the emotional state
Belonging is often described as a sense of connection, appreciation, and inclusion that an individual experiences within a particular community, or environment. It encompasses the feeling of being valued and understood, as an essential part of a larger collective. The concept of Belonging plays a crucial part when it comes to the context of an organizational work environment. Belonging goes further beyond the notion of just ‘fitting in’ and being considered as likeable as it also communicates the need to be accepted, the ability to make valuable contributions to the organisation etc. Empathy as a concept has the power to act as a dynamic catalyst for nurturing this feeling of belonging among individuals.
Importance of Empathy and Belonging in the Workplace
In a Forbes article, Eric Mosley put forward a challenge to all leaders by embracing a revolutionary change which is to design a company culture in which humans come first. This human culture consists of two dimensions that are interdependent, Empathy which manifests into an inward sense of Belonging.
Trust and Mutual Respect : The act of engaging in empathetic behavior’s through interactions builds a foundation of trust and mutual respect between people. The establishment of this very trust is the driving force of a harmonious and productive work environment where employees engage in empathetic interactions and collaborations.
Psychological Safety: Empathy and Belonging in the workplace also helps in creating a net of psychological safety amongst the employees by improving their mental health, boosting their self-esteem etc. which further encourages them to contribute their ideas, go the extra mile for the sake of creativity and efficiency in organizational matters etc.
Promotion of DEIB: In other aspects, Empathy and Belonging encourages the recognition of promoting diversity and inclusivity as it helps individuals to bring out their raw authentic selves into work without the fear of facing prejudice and harassment. It is of utmost importance that an organization’s core values should reflect the concept of empathy as that sends across the image of the company’s commitment of working towards building an atmosphere that values the importance of employee wellness.
When a person who feels isolated and neglected is put in a space where their emotions are recognized as well as validated by others, they experience a sense of belonging which slowly negates the feeling of isolation. This barrier of isolation present in the person’s life creates more problems as they come along like increased absenteeism, not taking up enough initiatives, social anxiety, feeling burnt out etc. The process of the removal of this barrier occurs when the employees and leaders engage in empathetic conversations and eventually cultivate meaningful social bonds that are of great importance within as well as outside the organisation.
How can we Practice Empathy and Belonging in the Workplace?
There are various initiatives that organisations can incorporate in their work cultures to encourage empathy and belonging in their work environment
Being an Active Listener: Prioritizing listening is an important skill that every leader and even colleagues should possess. By actively listening to your employees you make them and their contributions feel valued. This can be done through giving them your full attention, asking follow-up questions etc.
Empathy Focused Training: By conducting training based workshops which focuses on how you can have empathetic interactions in the workplace, respond with compassion and the effects of empathy.
Empathetic Leaders: When organisations have leaders that are empathetic, usually it automatically sets the tone for how the employees are supposed to interact and behave as the leaders have the power to set an example.
Acknowledge and Appreciate: Organisations should regularly practice the act of acknowledging and appreciating each employee’s efforts and contributions they put forward as it has the power to boost their self esteem and generate a sense of belonging.
Employee Wellness Programmes: When an organisation prioritizes their employees’ physical, mental, and emotional well-being through the means of employee wellness programmes, it creates an environment where individuals feel valued, supported, and understood.
Finally, every employee may be passionately engaged, empowered, and connected by a common purpose when empathy and belonging are present.