Viewpoint: Empathy in the workplace – what we could all do better

Being an engineer doesn’t absolve us from life’s challenges. Sometimes, we can take these in our stride and in others we are reduced to a sombre mood….silence as if our world is collapsing around us. I didn’t mention the “d” word, but we can’t hide from it….depression. Most of us portray such emotional states very clearly, others are subtle, but in general it is plain to see for those with eyes to see and a heart to feel. What do we do?

In the workplace, we could simply act as if everything is fine and let the person continue to suffer or if we are bold, perhaps we can ask them quietly away from an audience and listen. I don’t mean listen superficially, but really listen empathically. Put ourselves in their shoes, for sure some of us have been there before. Not only are we listening, but we are also responding with suitable gestures that indicate to the speaker we are engaged.

In my experience this does two things;

  • Creates a caring workplace
  • May actually help the person in need

I am not suggesting we become therapists, but rather we are the first step towards helping the person, if it occurs on our watch. Depending on the circumstances, they may need professional help and we would be amiss not to tell them that’s what they need. Hopefully, they may be seeking professional help, but need a good listening to. There are others who refuse to accept that mental health is the same as seeking medical help, and sadly even in the twenty first century, this is still the case. All we can do is our bit, but that’s a lot better than doing nothing.

I have attended counselling courses before, and I remember one of the instructors saying, an individual that approached him said, “What I really need is a good listening to”. Those words still echo for me today.

In a recent article from Forbes:

“In their groundbreaking book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, authors Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, stated that ‘Walking in the shoes of another is social awareness at its best — and it’s not just for actors. It’s for all of us who want to gain perspective and a deeper understanding of others [and] improve our communication.’ Sadly, a report in Harvard Business Review found that empathy is most lacking among senior executives and middle managers. This is especially problematic because leaders and their decisions have the biggest impact on a workforce.

Demonstrating to another person through your communication — both verbal and nonverbal — that you hear them and understand them is a powerful tool for a leader. It can align a team, engage an employee and make your workers feel valued. For a leader to show empathy, they have to be authentic, genuine and non-judgmental when considering different or opposing points of view. When one is empathetic to others, they momentarily project themselves into the other person’s circumstances and sense what that person is feeling at the moment, much like a professional actor tackling a new role. Demonstrating empathy can build trust and forge new bonds.”

Harriet Green, in an article in LinkedIn, says:

“Most of us agree that empathy is a critical leadership skill! We even sometimes reimagine ‘CEO’ as ‘Chief Empathy Officer’. I have written a great deal about our abilities to step into another’s shoes, and understand their situation and challenges. It is such a powerful set of traits that builds trust and faith.The pandemic and other distressing events over the past few years have only made empathic communications even more desirable and necessary, especially as those expressions have become more virtual. Each of us has varying levels of empathy, and not every leader is equally empathic.”

“The good news is that all leaders (even those who are not naturally empathic) can communicate messages of empathy as powerfully as they convey messages of unity and accountability!During our challenging times, the most effective leadership communications are ones that deliver attention, acknowledge distress, demonstrate care, and — not necessarily at first, but eventually — take appropriate action to mitigate the situation or at least provide comfort”

Pulling it all together, empathy is a not only necessary in our daily lives, but essential in the workplace.


Viewpoint: Empathy in the workplace – what we could all do betterA veteran of 31 years in the Analog Integrated circuit industry, Ash Madni continues to contribute to the rapidly changing world of Microelectronics. He is currently the Technical Director of a Spanish start-up WIMMIC, head quartered in Las Palmas, Grand Canaria. He manages all technical activities of the three teams in the UK, Las Palmas and mainland Spain.

He has worked from a number of big companies, such as Ferranti, STL, GEC Plessey Semiconductors, Maxim Integrated, Dialog Semiconductors, to name a few. He has also worked in startups, such as Phyworks. During his tenure at GEC Plessey Semiconductors, Ash raised over 20 patents, including Synthesis Exploiting Algebraic Design, which was used successfully in a number of products.

For relaxation, Ash enjoys running, walking, spending time with his wife, daughters and grandchildren. Ash is also active as a composer both in Chamber and Orchestral works.

See also: Viewpoint: From BC108 to SiGe BiCMOS – why Analog ICs are great