I recently re-watched the intense, high-stakes 2013 film, The Wolf of Wall Street. Aside from the rampant use of drugs and the law-breaking business practices exhibited by Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, one scene at the end truly touched me. In the film, DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort is making an impassioned speech to his company. He recounts his early days with the firm and how he believed so much in a new employee that he paid her young son’s school tuition, and then some, in an effort to get her on her feet financially.  

For all the things Jordan does wrong in the film, that bit of empathy was spot on. The leader saw potential in the employee, and invested in her in unexpected ways. Clearly not all leaders can do something so monetarily sweeping, but looking at our employees and making an emotional investment in them is just as important as making a financial one. The days of CEOs believing employees deserve a paycheck and nothing else is long, long gone. Employees need more than that because we, and life in general, ask more of them.

According to the Gallup State of the Global Workplace Report for 2023, 44% of workers report their job is very or extremely stressful, and 75% of employees believe that today’s workers experience more on-the-job stress than a generation ago.

We all know it’s quite common in our remote-capable mining industry to take after hours calls, emails and meetings. It’s also common to field questions from home or on holiday while others across the globe are working. Knowing you need to bother someone on their day off and apologizing for it is one thing. Leading with empathy, which is the ability to understand the share the feelings of another, is quite another.

The folks at Mindtools.com recognize the following three skills of empathy:

  1. Cognitive empathy is being aware of the emotional state of another person.

Sometimes we can feel it when we walk into a room, hear it in someone’s voice, or see a co-worker’s body language. Simply taking a good look around can give us a sense of who may be in distress. Take a moment to assess a situation.

  1. Emotional empathy is engaging with and sharing those emotions.

This doesn’t mean we have to (or necessarily should) get into long, detail-filled conversations with an employee who may be battling something at home. Sometimes exhibiting emotional empathy can be a simple statement acknowledging workplace or home life stressors. I caution, though, that if someone opens up about their mother who was just diagnosed with cancer, it is not the time to tell your mother’s cancer story. A simple, “I’ve lived through something similar,” is empathetic enough to let an employee know they aren’t alone.

  1. Compassionate empathy involves taking action to support other people.

Quietly recommending employee assistance programs to someone is one way to do this. Offering paid time off, in accordance with your company policies, is another. (Hint: if you don’t have any company policies regarding this, perhaps now is a good time to take a look at creating them.) Extending an invitation to work from home for a few days, or on a limited basis when applicable, can also go a long way toward letting your employees that you value them, their time and the hardships they may be facing. Ditto hiring them an assistant or intern, even if just for a limited time.

 Our emotional quotient, our empathy towards others, builds positive outcomes. In a recent report, Catalyst found that trust among staff, fulfillment in one’s position, and loyalty to the company are all predictable outcomes of leadership exhibiting empathy for their staff. That’s a strategic imperative we can all aspire to.

 

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