60% of employees surveyed would take a pay cut to work for this type of company

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Foosball tables and free lunches are great perks, but when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent, what employees really want is an empathetic organization.

So much so, in fact, that 60 percent of workers would be willing to take a pay reduction to work for an empathetic company, according to a 2018 survey conducted by tech company Businessolver on the state of workplace empathy.

Simply put, empathy means "treating others how you want to be treated," says Businessolver CEO Jon Shanahan. This requires that you understand your employee population and what they want from the organization, he tells CNBC Make It.

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.

This CEO decided to let his employees work only 6 hours a day
This CEO decided to let his employees work only 6 hours a day

Incorporating empathy from the top down also helps an organization remain competitive within the job market, says Shanahan. Employees and job-seekers take notice and are much more likely to join, and stay, at an organization that values this trait.

Data shows that 95 percent of employees are more likely to stay with a company that empathizes with their needs, while 81 percent would be willing to work longer hours.

On the flip side, 81 percent of employees would switch companies for the same pay if their next employer was more empathetic, and 79 percent would consider leaving their job if their current employer became less empathetic.

This is especially true in high stress industries such as tech, healthcare and finance, according to the survey.

These are also sectors in which recruiting is the toughest for high-skilled jobs, adds Shanahan. However, he says that if you focus on implementing empathy within your organization and show prospective employees that you have the the best offerings, you'll be "more likely to attract and retain top talent."

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