Stronger collaboration, less stress, and greater morale are all linked to empathetic workplaces. Additionally, empathy for the community you serve enables insight that creates better experiences and drives growth. By harnessing the power of empathy, you can help not only your workplace but also see a difference in your corner of the world.
Empathy is especially critical today.
We as a global community are experiencing events that require us to band together in support: from historic weather events to variants of COVID-19 to support for Afghan evacuees. Organizations are moving quickly to ensure thousands of Afghans have the opportunity to access safe housing, quality healthcare, and other basic needs. It's important to understand that this situation thrusts many of the evacuees into a foreign culture and language. As individuals and organizations, we find ourselves in a place where empathy, grace, and kindness are critical.
Unfortunately, at the same time, the empathy deficit is a very real issue facing our world today. A 2010 study found that college students were 40% less empathetic than those in 1979 — a startlingly steep decline. 2020 saw a sharp increase in the empathy deficit. In September of last year, Scientific American published a story on the subject, stating:
"People everywhere lack the sense that others care, which makes the medical, economic, political and societal assaults on our fundamental trust in the world even harder to handle."
These are real challenges. But what's true is that we can improve.
The Impact on Limited-English Speakers
The LEP (limited-English proficient) population is more likely to live in poverty than their English-speaking counterparts. Approximately 14% of the U.S. population falls below the poverty line, a number that is almost double (25%) for LEP households. These disparities manifest in many ways. For example, it's harder for limited-English speakers to find safe and affordable housing; they are also less likely to have health insurance and have a more difficult time accessing reliable healthcare. And, even when they do, they often experience worse health outcomes; a 2017 study found that medical students were subject to a hidden curriculum "in which supervisors role-modeled an indifferent, and sometimes negative, attitude towards care of patients with LEP [patients]."
While the disparities are very real, there are ways to bridge these gaps.
Change Perspectives (and the World) Through Empathy
Empathy is the ability to see the world from someone else's point of view and is essential for us to overcome some of the biggest challenges that we face today. We have an opportunity to be part of the solution in a world full of social, racial, and financial inequities.
When we think of "empathy" our picture is often a personal one: human to human. This is true: people can work on their empathy individually. Even more good news is that organizations are able to increase theirs as well. Organizations can become more empathetic by establishing systems that help them understand and make key decisions based on the core feelings, thoughts, situations, and motivations of others. Empathetic organizations can use this deeper understanding of their community's needs to serve them better. In addition to enabling positive social impact, it can also be a key element of success.
Fostering an Empathetic Culture
Empathy can be taught and learned, and organizations can make empathy their superpower by establishing systems to train on and foster empathy and hold themselves accountable.
- Make empathy and cultural competency a priority. Organizations that promote empathy and model it at the highest levels of leadership are more likely to develop it in managers and supervisors.
- Incorporate listening training. Listening is key to understanding how someone is feeling, but we're not all good listeners. Focus training on how to actively listen — pay attention, avoid judging the person, paraphrase and repeat back what you hear, clarify things you don't understand, and share your feelings. This helps everyone feel respected and heard.
- Practice seeing the world from others' perspectives. Conduct trainings to learn how people can actively put themselves in another person's shoes. Leverage feedback surveys, conduct interviews, and take other steps to learn from the community you serve, and make sure to communicate these stories and results throughout your organization.
- Know Your Community. Leverage publicly available data and data you've collected to understand the key segments of the populations you serve (think: cultures, languages, demographics). Make these known in your organization and build the systems to best support them.
- Promote learning and compassion. In cross-cultural organizations, people may not immediately understand the backgrounds, feelings, and customs of others. Encourage open dialogue and allow time for people to learn.
We Need Empathy Now More Than Ever
In a world facing significant ongoing challenges, we need empathy now more than ever. GLOBO believes that organizations have an important role to play in embracing empathy to be better stewards in our communities and the world.
- Webinar Recap: Connecting the Dots: Health Equity, Language Access & Cultural Competence
- The Role of Data in an Empathetic Future
- Cultural Competence in Healthcare: A Guide
- 5 Tips for Improving Patient Safety for Limited-English Speakers
- Understanding Cultural Awareness, Sensitivity & Competence
- Understanding Health Disparities Among Limited-English Speakers