According to clinical psychologist Jenny Yip, PsyD, empathy is vital in determining how well employers understand their employees. “What will get them to excel and thrive?” she asks, illustrating how empathy can help employers ask themselves this question in an effort to better assist their employees. “What will motivate them? When your team members are struggling, what do they need to prevent burnout?”
In the workplace, Dr. Yip says it's important for employers not only to have compassion for their employees and their experiences but also really feel the joy that they feel when they're productive. “It's also about feeling the struggles and challenges that they feel to help them prevent burnout,” she says. “That way, [employers] can help [employees] be the best they can possibly be.”
How empathy affects inequity in the workplace
“For women of color, there's an additional lack of equity,” says Dr. Yip. “A white woman will see more opportunity than a Black woman, for example.”
With this in mind, from an employer standpoint, Dr. Yip says that it’s important to have an understanding of the hurdles that women of color experience. “It helps [employers] provide equal opportunity,” she says. “On top of that, it helps [them] be more open-minded in terms of providing resources to women.”
This is key because, generally speaking, Dr. Yip points out that women have more responsibilities and a lot less time on their hands than their male counterparts.
“In academia, your ability to be promoted depends on how much research you've done and how many books you've written,” she says. “All of that requires time. When a woman goes home, she's usually responsible for managing the entire household, including childcare. Many male colleagues are able to go home and use their creative energies to write another chapter in their book.”
Dr. Yip uses this as an example to illustrate how an employer needs to understand the disparities in an effort to provide resources to help women, and especially Black women, succeed.
“Let's say both a man and a woman both put in 40 hours a week,” she continues. “The woman will always burn out quicker because a woman has many more responsibilities outside of that 40-hour a week of paid work. Using empathy can help an employer understand the burden placed on women, and the additional discrimination placed on women of color.”
How empathy influences compensation
Empathy goes beyond supplying resources and offering an ear to listen, though. It also involves reward systems based on equity.
“Empathy helps employers understand the discrimination, injustice, and inequity between the male and female genders,” says Dr. Yip. “It takes away some of the negative judgment we have when a female employee isn't able to accomplish something. It's more than compassion—which is feeling bad for someone else. Empathy is feeling what another person experiences and having an understanding of that feeling.”
And, by understanding those feelings and taking those experiences into account, an employer is able to make a positive impact on the employee based on how they recognize and reward their hard work.
“An empathetic employer may have different metrics for determining promotions and bonuses,” says Dr. Yip. “We all thrive on achievement and reward. So, if a woman of color is being rewarded equally as a white male, then that person will likely feel more as part of the team, which prevents burnout.”
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