How To Woo Employees With Empathy

Apr 28, 2017 1 Min Read
team leader talking to an employee outside the office


Communicating and conversing are two different elements that may either drive away or keep your employees

One in two employees have left their jobs to get away from their manager – State of The American Manager, Gallup 2015

It used to be that retaining employees is as simple as raising salaries and providing job security. A few decades ago, most people would have been grateful to just have a stable job which leads to predictable income and benefits.

The concept of employee engagement, emotional well-being and work-life balance was foreign to the minds of most managers and leaders of an organisation.

The employees of today are no longer driven by the same emotions as their predecessors. Have the elements of emotions and empathy now become the holy grail of employee engagement, retention and loyalty?

Could it be true that managers now need to embrace the “soft” side of people management, and re-skill themselves by gaining new EQ-related competencies?

Gallup estimates that the manager accounts for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units (State of the American Manager, Gallup 2015).

It appears that the attitude and behaviour of the manager has a more significant effect on retention than the manager may be willing admit.

Is empathy now the new norm for the manager?

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The empathy of expectations

The most basic of employee needs is the need for clarity of expectations. This covers more than just the job description.

In fact, most job descriptions these days are static in nature because it is difficult to document the dynamics of the industry and the varying permutations of relational network at play.

It has to do more with job expectation rather than job description. If your employee has asked this question – “What does excellence look like in your job?” – what would the honest answer be?

Compounded by the fact that 49% of the workforce today is being slightly matrixed in their reporting structure, we can no longer depend on the archaic practice of creating job descriptions that are incapable of keeping up with the networked nature of work in this age.

Gallup has found that consistent communication be it in person, over the phone or electronically, is connected to higher engagement. For example, employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times more likely to be engaged than employees whose managers do not hold regular meetings with them.

Hence, the first new norm for the great manager is the ability to have regular expectation conversations which allow for two-way interaction, in which performance outcomes are jointly discussed and deliberated upon.

In fact, employees value communication from their manager, not just about their roles and responsibilities, but also about what happens in their life outside of work.

The Gallup study revealed that employees who feel as though their manager is invested in them as people are more likely to be engaged.

Recommended reading: 5 Steps To Retain And Grow Your Talented Players


The empathy of equipment

This may sound strange but the most reliable predictor of employee stress is whether he or she is equipped with the right materials and equipment to do a good job.

When an employee first joins an organisation, he or she has that intrinsic motivation to do a good job and the inherent enthusiasm to make a good impression.

Having the right materials, equipment and resources can be likened to sending out soldiers to war with the right weapons.

“There is a deeper psychological bearing beyond just the equipment itself – there is the emotive element of what is felt by the employee when he or she has the right materials and equipment.”

Think about it; when you expect high performance from your team, do you also spend time to assess their need for the right equipment and tools in order to achieve the expected outcome?

When the manager does not consider the employee’s needs to be equipped in order to do a good job, the work performance may be achieved but it may not be sustainable. There is a deeper psychological bearing beyond just the equipment itself – there is the emotive element that is felt by the employee when he or she has the right materials and equipment.

This element sends the signal that my manager backs me up and supports me through the thick and thin of my work challenges – the feeling that “my boss has my back” is, in itself, an intrinsic driver for personal ownership and accountability.

Another aspect of this empathetic element is the way request denials are handled. For example, when the staff requires additional equipment and resources, do we flatly turn them down, or work creatively with them for any workaround alternatives?

In other words, managers need to create an empathetic environment where employees feel safe to highlight issues regarding materials and equipment without being brushed aside due to reasons of cost and inconvenience.
In the course of cost-cutting, organisation leaders need to be cautious to ensure that the spirit of the team is not inadvertently cut down in the process as well.

Related post: The 4 Stages Of Engagement Excellence


To refrain or to retain?

Most conflicts arise when there is an accumulation of unresolved conversations. Unfortunately, in today’s high-paced environment, there is the tendency for the manager to communicate rather than to converse.

Yet, when it comes to reaching out to win the hearts and minds of employees – especially in the Asian environment, managers need to overcome their tendency to refrain from engaging conversations.

In fact, it is better to have a nagging manager than a silent one. In order to retain your employees – particularly the talented ones, the manager must move from communication to conversation; from bossing to coaching; from focusing on weaknesses to focusing on strengths.

Gallup finds that companies fail to choose managers with the right talent for the job 82% of the time. What this indicates is that retaining talented employees requires an indirect strategy – one that focuses not on the development of the employee, but on the hiring and development of a great manager. Again, not just a great manager, but an empathetic one – to retain your employees requires you to retrain your managers.


If you would like to engage with Joseph Tan for your organisational needs in terms of setting the right culture and engaging the hearts and minds of the people, email us at To know more about what Leaderonomics do as a social enterprise, check out To share your thoughts with us, email us at

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Tags: Engagement

Joseph is a Leaderonomics faculty trainer who is passionate about engaging with leaders to transform culture in organisations. Previously, he was CEO of Leaderonomics Good Monday. He is currently based in the United States

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