Daniel Goleman, co-director of the consortium for research on emotional intelligence in organizations at Rutgers University, makes the business case for empathy in his book "Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence."
He argues that throughout history, followers have looked to leaders for a supportive emotional connection — for empathy.
Whether an organization withers or flourishes, writes Goleman, depends on how effective its leaders are at tapping into this emotional connection.
He adds that empathy is a fundamental part of social awareness and notes that employers who exhibit this trait are better able to keep their team happy, promote harmony in the workplace and foster friendly interactions.
According to the survey, which asked 1,000 employees to rate the level of empathy for a range of workplace behaviors, employees define an empathetic organization in various ways. Empathy is understanding that employees need to time off to take care of personal or family medical issues, respondents say, and understanding the need for flexible work hours.
Empathy is also defined as making the time to speak with employees one-on-one about challenges they're facing in the workplace and recognizing important personal milestones for an employee.
Research from the Center for Creative Leadership shows similar results. Their findings revealed that empathy is positively related to job performance because it creates a climate of support and protection among workers.
But when it comes to showing empathy, Shanahan notes that companies have long made the mistake of treating employees with a "one size fits all" approach." As organizations become increasingly multi-generational, he says, employers need to be more thoughtful about how they demonstrate empathy.
For example, while flexible work hours was the top benefit of an empathetic organization across all age groups groups, 66 percent of millennials reported that they'd favor student loan repayment assistance.
This was a lesser consideration for older generations, says Shanahan, yet something a company that employs mostly younger professionals would want to consider.