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.

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