CEO empathy perception levels at an all-time low, study says

A recent study revealed that perceived empathy levels of CEO's from HR and employees are at an all time low

The significance of CEO empathy in a company cannot be overstated. Empathy, or the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is an essential characteristic for any leader, particularly at the highest levels of an organization.

A CEO who demonstrates empathy fosters a workplace culture of trust, collaboration, and employee well-being. Employees are more likely to be motivated and engaged in their work when they feel understood and supported by their CEO, resulting in higher levels of morale, work productivity, and job satisfaction.

By putting themselves in the shoes of their workforce, CEOs can identify and address challenges, and implement policies that promote a healthy work-life balance, diversity, and inclusion.

But according to a recent report from Businessolver, an HR benefits technology and services company, the perceived empathy levels of CEOs from HR and employees have dropped to their lowest levels since 2017.

In comparison to last year, fewer HR professionals regard their CEO — and their organization — as compassionate. Overall, several empathy levels fell by double digits, with a 24-point gap between how HR leaders and CEOs perceive empathy in each other.

“Alarming. That is the word for this year’s data, particularly in terms of HR’s empathy perceptions and mental health challenges,” said Jon Shanahan, CEO and founder of Businessolver, in a statement.

“Last year, the cracks began to show. “In more ways than one, a great divide has emerged this year,” he added.”While we expected a drop in empathy due to factors such as inflation and return-to-work policies, we did not expect such large swings in the data, nor the severity of HR’s diminished perceptions.”

Over 3,000 HR professionals, employees, and CEOs from six industries were polled by Businessolver to examine the behaviors and benefits that make a workplace empathetic, defined as “the ability to understand and experience the feelings of another.”

Employee empathy perceptions have steadily declined since 2016, reaching an all-time low this year. However, HR professionals’ feelings about their organizations have plummeted by 23 points this year.

Furthermore, 68% of HR professionals viewed their CEO as empathetic, a 16-point decrease from 2022 and the lowest reported level. At the same time, 92% of CEOs rated their HR professionals as empathetic, a 27-point increase from the previous year.

According to the report, mental health issues have become more prevalent. 51% of employees and 61% of HR professionals reported having a mental health issue in the previous year, a 9-point increase from 2022. Approximately 61% of HR professionals said they are aware of their company’s mental health benefits, a decrease of 11 points from the previous year.

The report discovered that workplace flexibility could be critical. Flexible working hours ranked first on the list of the most compassionate benefits an employer can provide, followed by flexible working locations. Approximately 76% of remote workers viewed their organization as compassionate, compared to 62% of non-remote workers.

Furthermore, 78% of employees considered paid time off to be a must-have benefit, compared to 46% of CEOs. Approximately 9 out of 10 employees have requested family-related benefits such as paid maternity and paternity leave, as well as flexible work schedules and hours, but less than half have these benefits.

“In the end, the gaps in perceptions that this year’s findings reveal should be a wake-up call for leaders to check their perceived realities against the workplace realities of their employees, as the data shows far more disconnect than alignment,” Shanahan said. “However, leaders alone are not responsible for closing the empathy gap.” Everyone has a responsibility to be empathy stewards and to use ‘perspective taking’ to transform micro-empathy moments into macro-empathetic cultures.”

HR professionals may be concerned this year about employees feeling increasingly disconnected and disengaged as questions about organizational and leader-related empathy arise. But on the other hand, many professionals are of the opinion that opportunities for connection; with peers as well as leaders could be beneficial for employees.

In addition, according to a recent report from Onemedical, employees may require assistance in accessing their company’s mental health benefits. Some benefits go unutilized, and better communication about access could help reduce employee anxiety, depression, and stress.

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