Compassion at Work: The Link Between Empathy and Employee Engagement

Want employees to love working for you? Lead with compassion.

In the past, having a pleasant environment, a predictable routine, and enough compensation was enough to create a stable, satisfied workforce.

This is no longer the case.

Our daily lives and social functioning have shifted dramatically in the past decade, and with this, the purpose of work.

People today seek deeper meaning where they spend the majority of their time. Work no longer “just” funds a life or lifestyle. It’s an important part of that life, a reflection of our values and our vision for the world we want. Finding it (or not) largely determines how satisfied we feel with ourselves and our jobs—and, by extension, how capable our organizations are of thriving.

In other words, more and more of us are seeking out work that reflects what we care about—and more and more people demand that same care in return from our leaders and employers.

Wanted: Room to Ebb and Flow… Or Else

When employees feel ill-equipped or unable to act with the agility, authority, and autonomy required to deliver their best work, tensions rise. 

This inconsistency leads to a dangerous chain reaction: 

  1. Difficulty reacting to day-to-day challenges
  2. Difficulty envisioning one’s future within the organization
  3. Conflict with colleagues, managers, subordinates, and customers

What starts out as an inability to deliver meaningful results could escalate to a serious disruption in team dynamics and cultural health. 

Once a team or an organization reaches the conflict stage, this chain reaction culminates in the very thing threatening the fate of many organizations today: skyrocketing employee disengagement and plummeting retention, productivity, and profits.

The High Cost of Employee Disengagement

There is no disputing that highly engaged companies outperform those with low engagement. Organizations with highly engaged employees are far more productive, more profitable, and have far higher rates of well-being (66%) than organizations with low employee engagement.

According to Gallup’s ongoing employee engagement research, companies with low employee engagement are far more likely to have negative outcomes. 

  • Absenteeism is 81% higher in teams with low employee engagement versus those with high engagement.
  • Safety accidents are 64% higher in teams with low employee engagement versus those with high engagement.
  • Quality defects are 41% higher in teams with low employee engagement versus those with high engagement.

You may be familiar with these and similar stats. But what you may not know is that the antidote to the costly problem of employee conflict and resulting disengagement isn’t more rigorous performance management or an occasional free lunch.

It’s daily compassion

Employee Engagement—Feeling the Difference

Empathy is having the capacity to feel what an experience must be like for someone else. 

Compassion is acting appropriately toward someone for whom we feel empathy.

When conflicts arise, whether it’s a conflict of interest, opinions, priorities, or people, disengaged employees have more in common than they may think. Most of them feel misunderstood, misaligned, overlooked, and overwhelmed. Ignoring these experiences only escalates them—and causes people to burnout, shut down, and turn off. And this apathy leads to disengagement. This can be especially true for otherwise passionate employees who have invested deeply in the work.

To make sure that passion works for—and not against—you, the care has to go both ways.

Our Compassion Model from the Trust Edge 8 Pillars of Trust provides a framework for how to show compassion that is genuine and helpful. Compassionate leaders don’t run from conflict. They run toward it, ready to lay down the LAWS. 

  • L – Listen well. Be committed to hearing and being curious about what is behind the words. If your team is struggling, why? When? Where? How? Don’t assume their answers or fill in their blanks. Give them an opportunity to share honestly and freely.
  • A – Appreciate the other’s experience. It takes courage to be transparent, honest, and open about one’s feelings and experiences—especially in an environment of conflict and disengagement. Acknowledge the effort. Be specific in your feedback so others feel seen and heard.
  • W – Wake up! Be present, minimize distractions, and actively adapt your communication to the needs of each conversation and individual. 
  • Serve selflessly. When you see something you can do to help, don’t stand idle—find a way to help. Compassion is empathy in action

Rather than just addressing symptoms, compassionate leaders listen, empathize, uncover, and act, fueling teams that trust each other to do the right thing.

Leading with Compassion 

Where there are humans, there will be conflict. Conflict is a natural result of combining different perspectives, experiences, education, training, goals, and emotional needs. Conflict is not only inevitable, but it can also be one of the fastest, healthiest, and most energizing ways for teams to engage, innovate, collaborate, and grow.

But only if you care enough to do it right.

Leaders who conquer conflict with compassion create higher employee engagement and all the benefits that come with it. Our Trust Edge Certification provides tools, training, and a thriving community to foster a culture of compassion. If you’re ready to flip the script, schedule a 15-minute discovery call now and join our powerful lineup of trusted leaders in the Trust Edge Certified Partner Directory.

Restoring Trust:  The Power of Admitting When You’re Wrong

Sooner or later, trust gets tested. When it does, what happens next?


Today we start this blog with the leading ways to damage trust in our relationships — personal, professional, commercial, or otherwise. Broken trust is difficult to talk about and even harder to recover from. It often feels easier to abandon relationships rather than invest in rebuilding them. This is #cancelculture at its finest—and its worst.

Why do we go to such lengths to avoid rebuilding trust? 

Because it requires a leap into the unknown. Because we don’t want to get hurt (again). Because it’s hard.

Our mind can talk us out of nearly anything—even a relationship that is largely beneficial!—because it is hard-wired to protect us. Unfortunately, our modern society is not what our minds have evolved toward. There is no saber-toothed tiger in the conference room or on the other end of the phone—just a relationship that needs to be repaired. 

Even if we desire to rebuild trust, most of us don’t possess  the skills to do so. Yet. 

This is exactly why you should keep reading.

When You’re Wrong, Admit it.

Achieving success as a trustworthy leader doesn’t mean you never fail or disappoint others. To learn and grow we must possess the capacity to recognize when we are wrong and admit it. A stubborn refusal to accept responsibility for mistakes puts us in disharmony with this necessary growth—and leaves us feeling frustrated. 

“This disharmony creates suffering for us and those around us,” says Dr. Mike Brooks, a psychologist specializing in helping people find greater balance in an increasingly hyperconnected world. “There is great, untapped power in the flexibility inherent within the admission: “I am wrong.’”

According to a recent study, 46% of Americans are waiting for an apology from someone in their life. Could it be you?

Once You Admit, Recommit.

We hear it everywhere and all the time: nobody is perfect. And while it may be comforting that we all make mistakes, it’s always unsettling when it happens—especially when it negatively impacts our relationships.

There is good news here. Studies have shown that humans have a natural tendency to move toward growth. Once fault has been admitted, the most powerful way to rebuild trust is by making—and keeping—a new commitment. Depending on the situation, it may mean starting small and sticking with it. Show up on time. Follow-up and follow through on a task. 

There are several factors that play into this “second chance” mentality. Connection, one of our 8 Pillars of Trust, plays an overwhelming role in creating these environments and supporting the work of repairing trust. And, by definition, it goes both ways!

Re-connection Is Just as Critical as Connection

Leaders can create environments of connection—and the trust it builds—in three ways:

  • See people as humans. Not just people like you or people at work, but people who are in a constant state of growth and transformation. 
  • Assume positive intent. Giving the benefit of the doubt goes a long way in building and rebuilding relationships. 
  • Show you are listening. Four words that instantly increase connection in every conversation: Put. Your. Phones. Away. When you are present, you are presented with stronger bonds, greater grace, and more opportunities to see that the good in others almost always outweighs bad choices, mistakes, and disappointments. 

Building stronger connections is a compounding activity; the more interaction you have, the deeper and greater the connection. 

Creating a Culture of Resilient Trust

There is a correlation between work satisfaction and willingness to be vulnerable. The safer we feel in our environments, performance, and relationships, the more willing we are to take risks—including those necessary to build and rebuild trust.

At the end of the day, we all want to build resilient relationships that can handle the plot twists of our human stories. Growth, flexibility, connection, and harmony are born from trust work—and it generously goes both ways. If you’re looking for a great resource to help you rebuild trust, Chapter 13 of “The Trust Edge: How Top Leaders Gain Faster Results, Deeper Relationships, and a Stronger Bottom Line” has you covered.

As you move on with your day, it is highly likely you have highly regarded, beneficial relationships where you are avoiding the work of rebuilding trust. If you don’t take the first step to reconnect and rebuild, who will? 

Our Trust Edge Certification Program gives you the tools, training, and a thriving community to build satisfying cultures of connection. Are you interested? Schedule a 15-minute discovery call today to take your place in our Trust Edge Certified Partner Directory.

Relationship Restoration:  The Power of Admitting When You’re Wrong

Transformative Trust Begins with the Choices You Make Right Now

The potential for dishonesty, secrecy, lies, contempt, and rejection can live within all words spoken and all deeds done, from the daily minutiae to the defining moments. These are the things that damage or break trust. 

And in times of change the possibility of distrust and mistrust increases significantly.

Broken trust is difficult to talk about and even harder to recover from. It often feels easier to abandon relationships rather than invest in rebuilding them. This is #cancelculture, after all.

Why do we avoid it? Because the work of repairing trust requires a leap into the unknown. Our minds can talk us out of nearly anything because they are hard-wired to protect us. But the society we live in today is not the one our minds have evolved for. There is no saber-toothed tiger in the conference room or on the other end of the phone—just a relationship that needs to be repaired. 

Even if we desire to rebuild trust, we don’t often have the skills—yet. 

This is exactly why you should keep reading.

When You’re Wrong, Admit it.

Achieving success doesn’t mean you never fail or disappoint others. To learn and grow we must possess the capacity to recognize when we are wrong. Stubborn, inflexible refusal to accept when we are wrong puts us in disharmony with change and leaves us feeling frustrated.

“This disharmony creates suffering for us and those around us,” says Dr. Mike Brooks, a psychologist specialized in helping people find greater balance in an increasingly hyperconnected world. “There is great, untapped power in the flexibility inherent within the admission: “I am wrong.’”

This is where repairing trust begins.

When Others Are Wrong, Grow Together.

We hear it everywhere and all the time: nobody is perfect. Everyone occasionally does something that, on reflection, they aren’t proud of.

Studies have shown that humans have a natural tendency to move toward growth. And there’s no better way to show someone whose trust we have damaged that we’ve grown by making—and keeping—a new commitment. This is the most powerful way to mend a broken trust.

In supportive social contexts, people’s natural tendency toward growth is supported—and defensive behaviors are thwarted. This means that supportive social contexts are critical to repairing trust. Connection, one of our 8 Pillars of Trust, plays an overwhelming role in creating these environments and facilitating the work of repairing trust. 

Re-connection Is Just as Critical as Connection

Leaders can create environments of connection—and the inherent collaboration it brings—in three ways:

  • See people as humans. Not just people like you or people at work, but people who are in a constant state of growth and transformation. 
  • Assume Positive Intent. Giving the benefit of the doubt goes a long way in building and rebuilding relationships.
  • Show you are listening. Put the phone down and really listen. In fact, take it off the table. Put it away. People can tell when you’re really present and that leads to stronger bonds, greater grace, and more opportunities to remind ourselves that the good in others almost always outweighs bad choices, mistakes, and disappointments. 

Building stronger connections is a compounding activity: the more interaction you have, the deeper and greater connection you have. And the higher likelihood you are building trust that stands the test of human behavior.

Building Cultures of Connection

There is also a correlation between your satisfaction at work and your willingness to be vulnerable. Owning up to our mistakes and nurturing connections not only improves our relationships with others, it leads to deeper satisfaction in our work and personal lives.

According to the 2023 Populace Success Index, most Americans believe that success is about a meaningful life, not getting rich. The Index’s findings also show we believe that others perceive the opposite. 

At the end of the day, we all want to build resilient relationships. Growth, flexibility, connection, and harmony are born from the work of repairing trust—and it generously goes both ways. If you’re looking for a great resource for helping you to rebuild trust, check out “The Trust Edge: How Top Leaders Gain Faster Results, Deeper Relationships, and a Stronger Bottom Line”—chapter thirteen is all about rebuilding trust.

As you move on with your day, it is highly likely you have relationships that you are avoiding the work of rebuilding trust. It could be with a friend, a partner, a team, or your customers and clients. If you don’t take the first step to reconnect and rebuild, who will?Our Trust Edge Certification Program gives you the tools, training, and a thriving community to build satisfying cultures of connection. Are you interested? Schedule a 15-minute discovery call today to take your place in our Trust Edge Certified Partner Directory.

I’ve Got Your Back: Why Diversity Initiatives Need a Trust-Building Framework

Being different isn’t always easy. In organizational settings, small differences can lead to big problems if managers are unable to recognize, accept, and address the challenges posed by differences among their workforce. The tradeoff for creating an environment that embraces and supports diversity, however, is enormous: increased innovation, performance, and resilience to name just three. 

The World Economic Forum, OECD, UNICEF, and other global agencies deeply invested in the workforce of the future have each defined numerous transferable skills that are most necessary for a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous future. 

And well-functioning diverse workforces can deliver on ALL of these skills.

The Power of Diversity Lives in What We Value

Alignment is created when we can connect on common ground. This means shining a light on shared values like work ethic and commitment to the company mission. Shifting culture doesn’t happen overnight, but it can grow quickly when a forum for candor is created by a leader who is willing to acknowledge where differences exist and how they are getting in the way. Without first addressing differences, a leader can easily become mired down in arguments and conflict.

People of all ages value feeling seen, heard, and safe. Creating an environment of trust requires helping people identify and elaborate on shared values. Highly productive working teams function well together because of what they have in common—not because of what they don’t.

Leaders who build their teams based on alignment rather than differences will foster the benefits of diversity. In so doing, their workforce can flourish and grow with them, future-proofing their organization in the process.

Diversity Fuels Higher Performance

Trust is the glue that holds diverse groups together. Knowing that your coworkers “have your back” makes you less fearful of taking risks. It also gives people the security the need to perform, create, and solve—and the correlation between this safeguard and high performance is clear.

Some of the benefits of a diverse workplace with shared values include:

  • Improved critical thinking and reasoning
  • Originality and innovation
  • Complex problem-solving
  • Increased resilience and adaptability
  • Enhanced social influence

Data from our 2023 Trust Outlook, indicates that people from all over the world are embracing the benefits of a diverse workforce and want to align with others who share their values.

Featured Pillar of Trust: Competency

Staying the same doesn’t lead to growth—nor does it inspire it. Nobody wants to learn from a teacher who has been teaching the same things in the same way their entire career. Nobody wants to follow a leader who hasn’t adapted their leadership style to reflect the needs of their current team. Nobody seeks out a company with a reputation for maintaining an expired status quo.

People have confidence in those who stay fresh, relevant, and capable. This goes for entire organizations as much as individual leaders.

Trust Exercise: Make a habit of exposing yourself often to fresh information, opinions, and perspectives.

The humble, curious, and teachable person is always asking questions, learning new ways of doing things and staying current on trends and new ideas. Leaders who walk the proverbial walk can turn differences into alignment, and diversity into performance.

Invest in Trust-Building

Whether your organization has an established DEI program or is only beginning to see the value of these drivers, trust-building initiatives can help overcome the challenges posed by differences and elevate the benefits of diversity in your organization.

The Trust Edge Certification Program provides the tools, training, and—perhaps most valuable of all—the community to create high-performing cultures of trust. Interested in meeting some of our Trust Edge Certified Partners? Visit our Certified Directory.

Are you interested in the Trust Edge Certification Program? Schedule a 15-minute discovery call today to take your place in our Trust Edge Certified Partner Directory.

  1. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/10/top-10-work-skills-of-tomorrow-how-long-it-takes-to-learn-them/
  2. https://www.oecd.org/education/2030-project/teaching-and-learning/learning/skills/Skills_for_2030_concept_note.pdf
  3. https://www.unicef.org/lac/media/31591/file/The%2012%20Transferable%20Skills.pdf

The 8 Pillars of Trust

Trust: The Leading Indicator (The 8 Pillars of Trust)

According to our global study and The Trust OutlookTM, the number one question everyone is asking is “Can I trust you?”. A lack of trust is your biggest expense in business and life. Each of the 8 pillars of trust contribute to demonstrating why trust is the leading indicator.

Everything of value is built on trust. You’ll pay more for the trusted brand, follow the trusted leader, and buy from the trusted salesperson. Trust is the single uniqueness of the greatest leaders, organizations and brands of all time. Trust is the root cause. It amplifies marketing, speed of the sale, and is the only way to leverage the benefits of diversity.

Leading vs. Lagging Indicators

Leading indicators are typically input oriented, hard to measure but easy to influence. Lagging indicators are typically output oriented, easy to measure but hard to improve or influence. In many cases, the leading indicator is the cause of the lagging indicator.

An example of a leading indicator would be leadership competency. If the leading indicator is leadership competency- measured at the process level, the lagging indicator would be employee satisfaction, measured at the organization level.

Trust is the most important leading indicator as it is vital for driving toward any goal. Whether you are trying to increase your customer satisfaction rate or decrease attrition, trust affects the bottom line. From massive fraud in business to scandals in politics and athletics, the headlines point to a persistent problem of modern life and business—we’re lacking in trust.

So how do you build trust? Many professionals think it is as simple as increasing integrity or honesty. However, the solution much deeper and more complex than this. In order to build trust, you need to look at a much broader spectrum of ideas. The 8-Pillars of trust can assist in building the foundation for success.

The 8 Pillars of Trust- Defined

  • ClarityPeople trust the clear and mistrust or distrust the ambiguous. Be clear about your mission, purpose, expectations, and daily activities. When we are clear about priorities on a daily basis, we become productive and effective.
  • CompassionPeople put faith in those who care beyond themselves.  People are often skeptical about whether someone really has their best interests in mind. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is not just an old saying. It is a bottom-line truth. Follow it, and you will build trust.
  • CharacterPeople notice those who do what is right ahead of what is easy. Leaders who have built this pillar consistently do what needs to be done when it needs to be done, whether they feel like doing it or not. It is the work of life to do what is right rather than what is easy.
  • CompetencyPeople have confidence in those who stay fresh, relevant, and capable. The humble and teachable person keeps learning new ways of doing things and stays current on ideas and trends. Make a habit of reading, learning, and listening to fresh information.
  • CommitmentPeople believe in those who stand through adversity. People trusted General Patton, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mohandas Gandhi, Jesus, and George Washington because they saw commitment and sacrifice for the greater good. Commitment builds trust.
  • ConnectionPeople want to follow, buy from, and be around those who are willing to connect and collaborate. Trust is all about relationships, and relationships are best built by establishing genuine connection. Develop the trait of gratitude, and you will be a magnet.
  • ContributionFew things build trust quicker than actual results. At the end of the day, people need to see outcomes. You can have compassion and character, but without the results you promised, people won’t trust you. Be a contributor who delivers real results.
  • ConsistencyIt’s the little things—done consistently—that make the biggest difference. If I am overweight, it is because I have eaten too many calories over time, not because I ate too much yesterday. It is the same in business. The little things done consistently make for a higher level of trust and better results.

According to the Trust OutlookTM, the number one reason people want to work for an organization was trust. Ahead of being paid more, ahead of more autonomy, ahead of a more fun work environment, they want to trust their leadership. When the 8-pillars are used together, they make up the great advantage called The Trust Edge.

Trust is the most important leading indicator. When trust increases or decreases, the lagging indicator follows. If a leader is untrusted, both employee and customer satisfaction decrease. If a brand is trusted, revenue will increase, and employee retention will become greater. It affects all aspects of business. In both situations, trust is the first thing that changes.

What Are The 8 Pillars Of Trust? | David Horsager | The Trust Edge

Everything of value is built on trust, and a lack of trust is your biggest expense. So if trust is so important, how do you build it? In the original research, and backed up every year in our annual global research study The Trust Outlook™, 8 traits came out of what makes up a trusted individual and those who have what we call the Trust Edge.

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Building trust by Asking How

Building trust by Asking How

Working with one of the biggest healthcare organizations in North America, we’re with the, you know, it’s the top leaders. They’re losing HCAP funding, they’re losing patients and they said “Dave, we actually need to do something differently so we’re, you know, it’s the people with letters behind their name. They got CEO and MD and ADD, they got it all. And so we’re sitting there and the top leader says “clarity, “this is the pillar we need to work on “if we’re gonna build trust.” I said great.

He stands up in front of everybody and said “clarity. “That’s what we’re gonna work on.” I said “okay, how are you gonna do it?” He sat down and talked to his team. When he was ready, he stood up in front of everybody. “We’re gonna communicate more.” Great, I said “how are you gonna do it?” He sat down. He talked to his team.

When he was ready, he stood up in front of everybody and said “okay, we’re gonna “hold each other accountable.” I know what that means, not gonna do anything and gonna blame everybody else. I said “okay, how?” And they asked how seven times that day until they came up with something they were going to start to do differently today or tomorrow and eight years later, they point back to that moment changing the trajectory of their organization.

Why You MUST Do The Little Things Consistently

It’s Little things done consistently make the biggest difference, not the big things. If I’m overweight it’s because I’ve had too many mocha lattes over years, not ’cause they ate too much this morning for breakfast. If I’m a good husband, I’ve loved and honored my wife over years, not ’cause I gave her that one beautiful ring or package one time, not that that wouldn’t help.

If I’m a good leader, I’m doing the little things, little things consistently. If you’re a manager here and you’re not sharing these values every 14 days, nobody knows them so they’re not making decisions by ’em, so you don’t have consistency across the inside organization.

People say, oh, we got clarity. We got these three H’s. We got these five initiatives, we got these things. If you’re not talking about ’em, you just talk about ’em at the annual meeting, you lose.

Why You MUST Do The Little Things Consistently | David Horsager | The Trust Edge

Consistency is a challenge we are all facing whether it is at work or at home. Watch as David shares why you must do the little things consistently in your company, organization, family, and life.

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How to Get Referred More

How to get referred more:

So how do you get referred more? This is more common in business, but I’m gonna shout it out here, and I left it in for this one today because in business, there’s a big, big push to use Net Promoter Score, NPS, which asks the questions, basically you ask your client, will you recommend us? And I’ve been arguing for years, it’s not a referral question. It’s a trust issue. When trust goes up, we refer people.

We try to deal with the wrong issue. This is what I’ve been arguing with Best Places To Work, finally threw out engagement and put in trust as the number one metric for a best place to work because it’s not an engagement issue. You don’t have trust, you don’t get engagement.

 

How To Get Referred More | David Horsager | The Trust Edge

The Net Promoter Score has become a popular tool in companies and organizations. But when someone has a low NPS, they often think of it as an engagement issue or sales issue. But it isn’t an engagement issue or even a sales issue.

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How to Build Trust in Adversity

How should you build trust in adversity? Watch the video below to see David’s insight on the best way to build trust in adversity.

We learn when we trust people that stay committed even in the face of adversity. You think of anybody that’s left a great and lasting legacy in your life personally, or in history. Mandela, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Jesus or Joan of Arc, and you’ll find somebody who was committed to a cause beyond themselves and they were trusted because of that commitment.

 

How To Build Trust In Adversity | David Horsager | The Trust Edge

Adversity is unavoidable. But how we respond in the face of adversity can either build trust or break it. In this video, David shares how to build trust in adversity.

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How to build trust FAST

When is your greatest opportunity to build trust the fastest? Right away’s a really great opportunity, it’s number two. When was George W. Bush the most trusted in America? The week after 9/11. Crisis. Things are going to heck?

You got a board meeting, people are throwing chairs, they’re mad, parents are shouting and screaming. You got an incredible opportunity to build trust fast. How you respond as a board right then is your great opportunity.

 

How To Build Trust FAST | David Horsager | The Trust Edge

Trust is often build over a long period of time. But trust can be built quickly. In this video, David explains how to build trust FAST.

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