HR technology leader’s seventh annual study finds employees seeking greater progress on mental health benefits, flexibility, and diversity.
Businessolver, a leader in SaaS-based benefits technology and services, announced the release of its 2022 State of Workplace Empathy Study. The seventh annual study showed that, after resurging in the past year, empathy in the workplace is once again on the decline amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the Great Resignation. Along with seeing perceptions of workplace empathy returning to pre-pandemic lows, Businessolver’s 2022 research also uncovered clear employee expectations for empathetic work environments that prioritize flexibility; mental health; and diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“While it’s discouraging to see the decline in empathy after last year’s findings, the data isn’t surprising,” said Jon Shanahan, Businessolver President and CEO. “As we look more closely at the data, it’s clear that the pandemic and Great Resignation have created a shift in what workplace empathy looks like to employees. Executives and leaders have hard work ahead of them to create an empathetic culture through policies and programs that reach all employees equally—whether that’s in a home office or at a corporate headquarters.”
Decline in empathy highlighted in the era of return-to-office and the Great Resignation
Record numbers of workers continued to be lured by jobs offering higher pay, better benefits, and greater respect for work-life balance. This has put employers on their heels, with many struggling to offer the kinds of perks and culture that discerning jobseekers are looking for. Businessolver’s 2022 Empathy data reveals:
- 69% of employees say their organizations are empathetic, down from 72% last year.
- More than half of employees are concerned about protecting themselves against COVID-19 while in the office.
- 94% of employees say that flexible work hours demonstrate an organization’s empathy toward employees.
Almost overnight, the pandemic forced many employers to embrace the reality that employees didn’t have to be in the office to be productive. Overall, while employees believe that their organizations considered everyone’s needs when developing return-to-office plans, most (76%) still would prefer a hybrid work schedule that allowed them to decide whether they could go into work in person or work from home.
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CEOs continue to struggle with empathy
While CEOs have increasingly embraced their role as “Chief Empathy Officer” since Businessolver’s inaugural Empathy study in 2016, many continue to struggle with the identity: While 69% of CEOs believe it’s their job to build empathy in the workplace, 79% say they struggle to be empathetic. Specifically, 77% worry they will lose respect if they’re too empathetic, a 9-point increase from last year.
Overall, CEOs’ empathy struggles have driven employees to seek empathy elsewhere. Fewer employees today believe that their CEO plays the most important role in determining workplace empathy. Instead, many are turning to their direct managers to demonstrate empathetic behavior. There was a 25-point plunge in the number of employees who thought that their CEO played the most important role in building an empathetic workplace. This may also be a side effect of remote work or pandemic-related restrictions that limited employee engagement to their immediate supervisors.
As the pandemic persists, mental health remains at the forefront
Alongside the tremendous loss of life and persistent health fears brought by the pandemic, many people continue to combat mental burdens when it comes to living and working during an ongoing global health crisis—and the stigma that persists around seeking help.
- 1 in 2 employees experienced a mental health issue over the past two years.
- Two thirds of employees believe employers view employees with mental health issues as “weak” or “a burden.”
- 59% of employees fear that reaching out to a manager or HR about mental health issues could negatively impact their job security.
One of the most significant drivers of employee’s mental health issues is mounting concern that the return to in-person work will result in loss of the flexibility that helped them meet the challenges of the last two years. Nearly a quarter of employees say they experienced negative mental health effects as a result of returning to the office. This point once again reinforces the importance of flexibility when it comes to both demonstrating workplace empathy and addressing employee anxiety.
As diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts push forward, some employees are left behind
For many organizations, DEI remains an important driver of workplace empathy: 76% of employees, HR professionals, and CEOs believe that DEI programs and initiatives encourage empathy in the workplace. Two-thirds of employees say that DEI efforts at their organizations are very visible, a 1-point increase from 2021. Still, our 2022 State of Workplace Empathy data shows there’s more work to be done:
- More than one-third (37%) of employees believe that DEI programs just aren’t important to their CEOs.
- Over 80% of Black employees say they would put higher importance on DEI than their current CEO, compared to 67% for all employees.
Organizations must go beyond awareness and visibility and start showing real results. Workplace inclusivity remains dismayingly elusive for Black, Hispanic/Latinx and Asian employees. Across all these groups, 1 in 4 (24%) say that they don’t feel they can be their authentic selves at work.
Additional key findings
- Gen Z and Boomers find common ground: 69% of Gen Z and Boomers rate their colleagues as empathetic; 39% of Gen Z employees perceive CEOs as empathetic, the lowest of any cohort, and Boomers don’t view CEOs much better (41%).
- Workplace empathy drives employee drive: About 70% of employees and HR professionals believe that empathetic organizations drive higher employee motivation.
- Employees seeking to carve out the clock: While 94% of employees value flexible work hours as empathetic, only 38% say this option is offered by their employer.
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