Group polarization and the intrinsic need for self preservation has rendered today’s people as hostile, unkind, and unempathetic. As naturally empathetic beings that are equipped with the biological tools to cultivate strong communities even within our workplace, why are we going against our nature? Moreover, how can we return to our roots to cultivate healthy and meaningful connections with our co-workers and employers?
The Social Psychology Behind Our Hostility
As our environment becomes hostile and uncaring for the needs of its inhabitants, we learn to become aggressive in response and assume an individualistic perspective. The average American is currently navigating the inflated cost of living, systemic inequalities, and a multitude of ongoing stressors. Simply stated; our environment does not provide us with the resources we need. Researchers in the field of social psychology, such as Dr. Sara Konrath, PhD, have recognized the battle of self-perseverance and have speculated that these behavioral effects are a result of burnout. In an interview with host Kaitlin Luna on the “Speaking of Psychology ” podcast featured on the American Psychological Association’s website, Dr. Konrath notes a correlation between the fall in empathy and rise in mental health problems as a possible result of burnout. With further research, many studies indicate that another variable at play is social media. Whether this be from the angle of social isolation and loneliness or the abuse of online anonymity, social media has conditioned many to lack in empathy as moral outrage and negativity gain more engagement and thus are promoted by the algorithm (Brady, Crockett, Doan, McLouglin, 2021) This indicating that negativity and hostility is actively being promoted by the media we consume. The influence of social media is undeniably strong on how we live our lives, swaying what we consume and support. With the algorithm consistently promoting negativity, it is entirely possible that our ability to empathize with others and be compassionate has greatly deteriorated.
In the case of employees, environments full of stressed and overextended staff also encourage psychological withdrawal and organization-directed deviance, especially when amongst unconscientious supervisors and hostile work environments (Mawritz, Dust, & Resick, 2014). This creates an unhealthy work culture, where supervisors can find a place to exert their stresses and demands onto their already stressed employees. It comes to no surprise that these hostile environments continue an unhealthy cycle whether that be in the workplace or in daily life, however, promotion of being kind, gentle and collaborative seem to have been lost in translation.
Effects of an Empathetic Workplace
While the systemic issues at play are more complicated on a macro level, you may find that facilitating community, kindness, empathy, and collaboration on a micro level can work miracles. Research has indicated that perspective taking and empathic concern are extremely powerful tools in work-related successes, whether that be deal negotiations or establishing a productive and communicative team. Namely, empathy had stronger predictors of a positive work-related outcome, (Logmire, & Harrison, 2018). Not only this, but cultivating kindness and positive relationships among staff members at work has been shown to predict long-term job satisfaction (Wrzesniewski, & Dutton, 2001). An organically grown workplace community environment, especially when operating remotely, can bring more meaning to an employee’s role in the organization. A culture of kindness and empathy does not only elevate your organization or cause, but if given enough time and care, it can transform it as well. Employees’ sense of belonging and meaning within the workplace increases productivity, creativity, and innovation as their ideas feel valued and appreciated within the company.
How to Facilitate Community at Your Workplace
This can be done by using words of gratitude, encouragement, and validation as well as by meaningful actions such as volunteering support and guidance through complex projects. In addition to the aforementioned strategies, there are various other ways to foster a sense of community within the workplace. For instance, team-building activities, social events, and shared meals can help employees get to know one another and build relationships outside of the usual work setting. Establishing an open-door policy where employees feel comfortable expressing their concerns and ideas can also create a more collaborative and supportive work environment. Additionally, offering opportunities for professional development and growth can help employees feel valued and invested in the organization, which can lead to increased job satisfaction and productivity. By implementing these strategies and promoting a culture of kindness, empathy, and community, employers can not only improve the wellbeing of their employees, but also boost their bottom line.
At the Harbinger Group, we take advantage of our multiple community based Slack channels to foster a sense of community and comradery by sending positive messages to the team, recognition for our team members’ successes and contributions, and the beloved baby and pet pics channel where we share (you guessed it) cute pictures of our furry friends and teammate’s very bright children. Our CEO, Eileen Rochford makes the effort to facilitate these spaces despite being a fully remote agency, with additional days of the year dedicated to team celebrations, lunch gatherings, and more opportunities to meet in person individually or with the team.
In today’s competitive and demanding work environment, it is crucial for employers to recognize the benefits of empathy and kindness in the workplace. By prioritizing the emotional and physical well-being of their employees, companies can create a culture of care and support that not only improves job satisfaction, but also boosts productivity and success. As natural empathetic beings, it is important that we utilize our biological tools to create a positive and healthy work environment for all. In doing so, we can ensure that our workplaces become spaces of growth and community, rather than sources of stress and hostility.
Blog inspired by episode #31 of the Can You Hear Me? Podcast, “Why Can’t We Get Along at the Office?”