Empathy has always been a critical skill for leaders, but it is taking on a new level of meaning and priority. Far from a soft approach it can drive significant business results.
You always knew demonstrating empathy is positive for people, but new research demonstrates its importance for everything from innovation to retention. Great leadership requires a fine mix of all kinds of skills to create the conditions for engagement, happiness and performance, and empathy tops the list of what leaders must get right.
The Effects of Stress
The reason empathy is so necessary is that people are experiencing multiple kinds of stress, and data suggests it is affected by the pandemic—and the ways our lives and our work have been turned upside down.
- Mental Health. A global study by Qualtrics found 42% of people have experienced a decline in mental health. Specifically, 67% of people are experiencing increases in stress while 57% have increased anxiety, and 54% are emotionally exhausted. 53% of people are sad, 50% are irritable, 28% are having trouble concentrating, 20% are taking longer to finish tasks, 15% are having trouble thinking and 12% are challenged to juggle their responsibilities.
- Personal Lives. A study in Occupational Health Science found our sleep is compromised when we feel stressed at work. Research at the University of Illinois found when employees receive rude emails at work, they tend to experience negativity and spillover into their personal lives and particularly with their partners. In addition, a study at Carleton University found when people experience incivility at work, they tend to feel less capable in their parenting.
- Performance, Turnover and Customer Experience. A study published in the Academy of Management Journal found when people are on the receiving end of rudeness at work, their performance suffers and they are less likely to help others. And a new study at Georgetown University found workplace incivility is rising and the effects are extensive, including reduced performance and collaboration, deteriorating customer experiences and increased turnover.
Empathy Contributes to Positive Outcomes
But as we go through tough times, struggle with burnout or find it challenging to find happiness at work, empathy can be a powerful antidote and contribute to positive experiences for individuals and teams. A new study of 889 employees by Catalyst found empathy has some significant constructive effects:
- Innovation. When people reported their leaders were empathetic, they were more likely to report they were able to be innovative—61% of employees compared to only 13% of employees with less empathetic leaders.
- Engagement. 76% of people who experienced empathy from their leaders reported they were engaged compared with only 32% who experienced less empathy.
- Retention. 57% of white women and 62% of women of color said they were unlikely to think of leaving their companies when they felt their life circumstances were respected and valued by their companies. However, when they didn’t feel that level of value or respect for their life circumstances, only 14% and 30% of white women and women of color respectively said they were unlikely to consider leaving.
- Inclusivity. 50% of people with empathetic leaders reported their workplace was inclusive, compared with only 17% of those with less empathetic leadership.
- Work-Life. When people felt their leaders were more empathetic, 86% reported they are able to navigate the demands of their work and life—successfully juggling their personal, family and work obligations. This is compared with 60% of those who perceived less empathy.
Cooperation is also a factor. According to a study published in Evolutionary Biology, when empathy was introduced into decision making, it increased cooperation and even caused people to be more empathetic. Empathy fostered more empathy.
Mental health. The study by Qualtrics found when leaders were perceived as more empathetic, people reported greater levels of mental health.
Wired for Empathy
In addition, empathy seems to be inborn. In a study by Lund University, children as young as two demonstrated an appreciation that others hold different perspectives than their own. And research at the University of Virginia found when people saw their friends experiencing threats, they experienced activity in the same part of their brain which was affected when they were personally threatened. People felt for their friends and teammates as deeply as they felt for themselves. All of this makes empathy an important part of our human condition—at work and in our personal lives.
Leading with Empathy
Leaders can demonstrate empathy in two ways. First, they can consider someone else’s thoughts through cognitive empathy (“If I were in his/her position, what would I be thinking right now?”). Leaders can also focus on a person’s feelings using emotional empathy (“Being in his/her position would make me feel ___”). But leaders will be most successful not just when they personally consider others, but when they express their concerns and inquire about challenges directly, and then listen to employees’ responses.
Leaders don’t have to be experts in mental health in order to demonstrate they care and are paying attention. It’s enough to check in, ask questions and take cues from the employee about how much they want to share. Leaders can also be educated about the company’s supports for mental health so they can provide information about resources to additional help.
Great leadership also requires action. One leader likes to say, “You’re behaving so loudly, I can hardly hear what you’re saying.” People will trust leaders and feel a greater sense of engagement and commitment when there is alignment between what the leader says and does. All that understanding of someone else’s situation should turn into compassion and action. Empathy in action is understanding an employee’s struggles and offering to help. It is appreciating a person’s point of view and engaging in a healthy debate that builds to a better solution. It is considering a team member’s perspectives and making a new recommendation that helps achieve greater success. As the popular saying goes, people may not remember what you say, but they will remember how you made them feel.
Empathy contributes to positive relationships and organizational cultures and it also drives results. Empathy may not be a brand new skill, but it has a new level of importance and the fresh research makes it especially clear how empathy is the leadership competency to develop and demonstrate now and in the future of work.
Democrats opposed to Biden spending bill raise record funds
Moderate Democrats who have stood in the way of Joe Biden’s $3.5tn “Build Back Better” agenda raised record sums of money in the third quarter, with big contributions from the oil and gas, pharmaceutical and financial services industries, filings show.
Joe Manchin, the Democratic senator from West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema, the Democratic senator from Arizona, are the two main opponents to Biden’s plan to make massive investments in America’s social safety net.
Both have demanded cuts to bring down the cost of the $3.5tn plan, which would make sweeping investments in childcare, public healthcare and schemes to combat climate change.
The two relatively conservative Democratic senators wield outsized influence in a US Senate that is split, 50-50, between Democrats and Republicans. Any budget bill will need support from both Manchin and Sinema if it is to be signed into law.
The latest Federal Election Commission filings, out this weekend, show the two senators, who are not up for re-election until 2024, raised more money in the three months to the end of September than they had in any other quarter in a nonelection year.
Manchin raked in nearly $1.6m in the third quarter compared to $1.5m in the second quarter of this year and just over $175,000 in the first. Sinema raised over $1.1m in the third quarter, narrowly edging out her haul in the second. In the first quarter of this year, Sinema brought in just over $375,000.
Manchin ended the quarter with $5.4m cash on hand, while Sinema had $4.5m in the bank — relatively large sums of money for politicians who will not need to face voters for another three years.
Manchin represents West Virginia, a Republican-leaning state that favoured Donald Trump over Biden by nearly 40 points in last year’s presidential election. Sinema is from Arizona, a traditional Republican stronghold that has become increasingly Democratic in recent years. Biden won there last year by a razor-thin margin of just over 10,000 votes.
The senators maintain they are representing the interests of their constituents when they seek to dilute the president’s agenda. But progressive critics from within their own party have accused them of being beholden to special interests, including the fossil fuel and pharmaceutical industries, which would stand to lose under Biden’s plans. The White House proposals would give incentives to companies to transition to cleaner energies, and lower the cost of prescription medicines for consumers by allowing the government to negotiate with drug companies on behalf of senior citizens.
The latest filings show that Manchin’s biggest donors in the third quarter include Vicki Hollub, president and chief executive of Occidental Petroleum, the major oil company, Albert Huddleston, the founder and chief executive of Aethon Energy, another big oil and gas firm, and Wil VanLoh, the chief executive of Quantum Energy Partners, a private equity firm focused on the energy industry.
Manchin also received several $5,000 donations from corporate PACs, including Enterprise Products, the Houston-based crude oil pipeline company, and Encompass Health, an Alabama-based healthcare services firm.
Sinema received several large donations from healthcare and pharmaceutical industry bosses in the third quarter, including Bristol-Myers Squibb chair and chief executive Giovanni Caforio, Eli Lilly chief executive David Ricks, and Kabir Nath, chief executive of Otsuka.
The Arizona senator also cashed cheques from several big names on Wall Street, including Goldman Sachs president and chief operating officer John Waldron, and Apollo Global Management co-founder and chief executive Marc Rowan. The cryptocurrency investor twins best known for their lawsuit against Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg — Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss — also both contributed the maximum legal amount to Sinema’s campaign.
Manchin and Sinema are not the only moderate Democratic lawmakers who have thrown their weight around on Capitol Hill in recent weeks. A group of nine House Democrats, led by Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, have also raised concerns about the size of the budget plan, and tried unsuccessfully to force House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to push ahead with a separate vote on a stalled $1.2tn infrastructure package. House progressives have refused to vote for the infrastructure bill without assurances that Manchin and Sinema will not gut the bigger budget bill.
The latest filings show Gottheimer raised nearly $1.1m in the third quarter, compared to $966,000 in the second quarter and $965,000 in the first quarter. He finished the three-month period with more than $11m, a record high for a House member from New Jersey.
Top donors to Gottheimer included Tim Wentworth, president of both Express Scripts Holding Company, the pharmacy benefit manager, and Cigna, the health insurance company, as well as Tony James, executive vice-chair of Blackstone. The congressman also received the maximum legal donations of $5,000 each from the corporate PACs of companies including Comcast, John Deere and New York Life Insurance.
Putin Suggests Germany Approve Nord Stream 2 to Solve Energy Crisis
The pipeline has been contentious in U.S. politics, too. Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, has blocked confirmation of dozens of Mr. Biden’s diplomatic appointments, including more than 50 would-be ambassadors, to insist that the president do more to halt European approval for Nord Stream 2.
Oct. 16, 2021, 11:12 a.m. ET
Runaway gas prices in Europe this fall have played into Mr. Putin’s hands. Russia, the world’s largest natural gas exporter, provides about 40 percent of the gas imported to Europe, which has increasingly turned to natural gas to generate power as coal-burning plants have been shut down. As European consumers pay ever more for electricity, their patience with the intricacies of Eastern European security politics may wane.
At the conference, called Russian Energy Week, Mr. Putin noted that utility bills — and frustration — were rising in Europe. Natural gas is crucial for generating electric power, and he said electricity costs about 10 times more in European Union countries than in Russia.
Energy analysts and company executives say a variety of factors have driven up costs, including the weather, the abrupt acceleration of national economies after pandemic restrictions, and high prices in China that prompted U.S. liquefied natural gas producers to send tankers to Asia rather than Europe.
Responding to criticism that Russia is trying to manipulate the natural gas markets to win approval for Nord Stream 2, Mr. Putin denied any Russian role in driving up prices. He blamed European Union policies encouraging alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar farms. Mr. Putin also pointed out that American liquefied natural gas exporters had increased shipments to China rather than bolster supplies in Europe.
Mr. Putin said Russia had fulfilled all its contracts to send gas to Europe and had supplied more natural gas this year than last year. Russia, he said, is ready to send more if companies negotiate new deals with Gazprom.
“We are increasing” gas supplies to Europe, he said. “And if you ask us to increase more, we will. We will increase as much as our partners ask.”
FDA Introduces A New Approach To Food Safety
It’s been more than 10 years since President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The Act gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) increased authority to regulate the way foods are grown and processed in the US and in countries that export foods to the US. The objective of FSMA was to make foods safer, reducing cases and outbreaks of foodborne disease. The success of FSMA has been mixed, largely because of the challenges posed by illnesses associated with fresh produce.
The fresh produce industry has changed dramatically over the past several years. Consumer demand has increased along with pressures on US growers to produce larger quantities and more variety. Also, produce is now sourced globally, making seasonal produce items available throughout the year. An article by Conner McDaniel and Ravi Jadeja at Oklahoma State University (2019) states that fresh produce is the number one cause of these foodborne illnesses in the US. The article also refers to the economic costs associated with illnesses associated with fresh produce which is estimated to be $39 billion annually (26% of the total).
In an effort to change its approach to regulating the food industry, including fresh produce, FDA is hosting a summit this week to usher in a “New Era of Smarter Food Safety.” The initiative is being led by Frank Yiannas, Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response. He has long been an advocate for the concept of a “Food Safety Culture” as the framework for improving food safety. The objective of this innovative approach is to “leverage technology and other tools and approaches to create a safer and more digital, traceable food system”. Also, to “bend the curve of foodborne illness in this country by reducing the number of illnesses.” The new era for food safety at FDA will rely on enhanced traceability and predictive analytics technologies to better manage fresh produce risks. This will allow the agency to speed outbreak response and prevention, identifying and removing contaminated products from commerce, ideally before it’s consumed.
The New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint is centered around four core elements:
1. Tech-enabled Traceability
2. Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention and Outbreak Response
3. New Business Models and Retail Modernization
4. Food Safety Culture
FDA has identified these as “foundational pillars of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety” which are designed to help create a safer and more digital, traceable food system.
Another component of the New Era initiative is a commitment to work constructively with the food industry and food industry technology providers to build effective food safety systems that reduce contamination risks for fresh produce and all food products.
FDA’s New Era initiative will be integrated into the existing regulatory requirements associated with FSMA. These include rules requiring preventive controls, specific rules for produce safety, accredited third-party certification, and a Foreign Supplier Verification Program. FSMA provides the framework for the food industry to design and implement safe food processes which are a prerequisite for safe foods. The New Era initiative combined with the FSMA rules will provide the necessary industry and regulatory tools to allow for substantive food safety improvements.
Clearly, FDA’s “New Era of Food Safety” initiative represents a major step towardsthe goal of reducing foodborne illness. The agency has recognized that the regulatory approaches used in the past aren’t working as well as they should to protect consumers in the ever-changing global landscape of food production and processing. FDA is also proactively embracing technology and leading the food industry – something that is uncommon in government regulatory agencies.
Janet Woodcock, M.D., the Acting Commissioner of Food and Drugs, and Frank Yiannas should be commended for not losing sight of the importance of food safety through the COVID pandemic. The new approach to food safety has the potential to make our food supply safer and reduce foodborne illnesses and outbreaks.
 McDaniel and Jadeja, 2019
 US Food and Drug Administration, 2021
McDaniel, C., & Jadeja, R. (2019). A review of fresh produce outbreaks, current interventions, food safety concerns and potential benefits of novel antimicrobial sodium acid sulfate. MOJ Food Processing & Technology, 7(3), 59–67. https://medcraveonline.com/MOJFPT/MOJFPT-07-00221.pdf
US Food and Drug Administration. (2021). New era of smarter food safety: Modern approaches for modern times. https://www.fda.gov/food/new-era-smarter-food-safety
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