Empathy is viewed as an important leadership trait and yet only 51 per cent of U.K employees believe their senior leaders are empathetic. Plus, when leaders do express empathy, just 52 per cent say it’s accompanied by meaningful action and support.

These are the findings from O.C. Tanner’s 2024 Global Culture Report which gathered data and insights from more than 42,000 employees, leaders, HR practitioners, and executives from 27 countries worldwide including 4,818 from the U.K.

Robert Ordever, European MD of O. C. Tanner, commented:

Progressive organisations often champion the importance of leaders being empathetic, which is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. This approach strengthens connections between leaders and their people, but it’s unlikely to be effective if the empathy is seen as hollow and meaningless due to a lack of follow-up action.

Robert Ordever, European MD of O. C. Tanner

The Report warns leaders against viewing empathy as just “warm and fuzzy” words and initiatives that have little usefulness, and instead recommends a ‘practical empathy’ approach grounded in providing valuable follow-up action and support.

This means firstly taking the time to listen and understand an employee’s situation, and then acknowledging and addressing the problem. The follow-up action might be suggesting greater flexibility in the job, giving more autonomy or simply connecting the employee to specialist help and resources.

When leaders and organisations display practical empathy, employees are much more likely to feel engaged and fulfilled. A sense of belonging is 1,149 per cent more likely and there’s a 896 per cent increased likelihood of employees having a strong connection to the organisation.

Ordever concluded:

Empathetic leadership is crucial but it must always be accompanied by a meaningful action otherwise the leader’s words will appear empty and insincere. Of course, practical empathy requires the full support of the organisation, including providing training and clear guidance on boundaries. After all, leaders can’t be expected to do everything, otherwise they’ll quickly succumb to empathy fatigue and burnout.

Joanne Swann, Content Manager, WorkWellPro
Editor at Workplace Wellbeing Professional | Website

Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.