Does empathy affect work performance?

How do we perform better?

The other day, I was talking to an employee–let’s call her Alice–who felt that her manager was not picking the right people to work at their company. She said they were getting poor service reviews online that said they “needed to step it up.” She thought the root of the problem was the people they hired. They did not want the job badly enough, so they did not work hard enough. She thought that these employees should be told they would be fired if they did not get to work on time. She thought that implementing an Employee of the Month award, voted on by peers, would motivate people to try harder because they’d feel guilty for not getting chosen.

Most businesspeople would agree these are great ideas, the types of motivational programs used for decades.

But they’re all based on fear. And they don’t work. What does work? Empathy.

Fear, Stress and Empathy

For the past 15 years, I have worked with a wide range of workers, from low level employees to management leaders and CEOs, coaching them on how to take better care of themselves so they don’t just live better, but also work better. What I see over and over is that when stress rules what we do, we lose touch with WHY we are doing what we do. And fear breeds stress.

As a result, we focus on what is urgent, rather than what is important. Then we resort to old bad habits, rather than incorporating healthy new habits. We go back to what we know, even if it doesn’t work.

I advised Alice to try something new by helping the staff understand why customers came to eat there, what they expected to receive and experience, and why each of these staff members were an important part of making that happen.

What is important here is that they become a team rather than competing against each other to be the best. Just like any team effort, it is only as strong as the weakest link, and the team effort will help everyone rise. For example, the staff could evaluate customer reviews and feedback together and talk about how to improve as a team. Someone in the team would have suggestions about how to connect with customer, to those who might not be as comfortable with that. Someone else might have suggestion about how to be quicker and so on. By sharing their experiences with each other they would come together and raise the bar as a team.

Be at team

What is often missing is the community aspect of work. People lose steam when they are just working against the clock—and especially if they are competing against each other. Or when they are just working to do more, without really knowing why. Or being nicer to customers, without really knowing what makes the customers happy. Or when they are being told, “no that is not good enough” over and over again. What’s missing is empathy, for our customers, our coworkers, and ourselves.

What is your corporate culture?

As a coach, I’ve seen that we all need to understand WHY we are doing what we are doing every day to feel appreciated.

Alice’s company can boost their performance by being more empathetic and sharing with their team why they are serving food and understand what the customer wants, other than good food. Because essentially, we don’t go to restaurants for the food, we go for the feeling. We want to be nourished. We want to feel welcome, appreciated and seen. It is a feeling of having a home away from home, where someone cares if I show up for lunch.