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By Dr. Marie Gould-Harper
Program Director, Management, American Public University
As I was reading blog articles one recent morning, I came across a quote that really left an impression on my heart. It was “You seriously have no idea what people are dealing with in their personal life. So just be nice; it’s that simple.” This quote perfectly summarizes my philosophy regarding how I interact with employees and how I design policies.
Employers Sometimes Forget Employees and Their Needs
When I started my undergraduate program at Wellesley, my passion was law. I wanted to right the wrongs of society through the legal system.
But by my sophomore year, I decided I wanted to work helping employees master the maze of corporate life. I changed my major to psychology and economics in an effort to understand the business environment and how it affects the people who work in it.
One of the lessons I learned in my first position was that I had to act as a mediator, because I did not have a problem seeing both sides of the story. There were times that I believed leaders lost sight of who was working for them; they were far too focused on the company’s bottom line.
While we pay employees to do a job, they are human. Humans are subject to flaws and limitations, but most employees have a good heart and want to do the right thing.
However, employees’ attitudes toward their organization quickly change if they perceive that the management team does not care about them as human beings. Some managers view their employees as expendable and easily replaced, rather than seeing them as the business assets they are.
There are several reasons why you should care about what your employees think of you:
1. Employees watch you. What you do and say influences the outcome for the level and quality of productivity from your department.
Although some people have a problem believing an empathetic employer exists, Matt Mover wrote a blog article discussing how a passionate boss can make the difference in the workplace. A boss with charisma is a sign that he or she cares about what is going on at work.
If you are a leader who is bored with your job and your life, your employees will sense it. If you do not care, why should they?
2. Most employees want to do a good job, but they get distracted when things are awry in their personal lives. They want to experience empathy from their employer, especially their direct supervisor.
For the most part, we cannot predict the curveballs that life throws at us. It is a setback when we start to experience health issues or financial problems.
Because these issues threaten one of the basic needs in life (i.e. psychologist Abraham Maslow would call them security needs), employees may become distracted and disengaged if they are worrying about what is going on at home.
Many companies offer benefits to help employees address personal issues. However, companies also need to ensure that they take a “high touch” approach and use an employee advocate to discuss a process from a holistic point of view, describing the paperwork involved and how the process will impact an employee and his/her family. This is a better approach than just focusing on the administration of benefits, being in compliance and administering the benefits plan. Employees want to believe they are more than just a number.
3. Disgruntled employees are a threat to your workplace.
When I left the human resources field as a practitioner, I noticed a trend. There were disgruntled employees lashing out at their coworkers. Sometimes, a human resources professional was injured or killed.
One case involved an employee who had worked for the company for 15 years and probably did not know what else to do with his life after being fired from the company. This former employee chose to come back and kill several employees. That employee was also killed.
Although reports suggest that he only wanted to get his job back, what if all he wanted was guidance and evidence that the company was an empathetic employer who cared about him? While I am not saying the former employee was justified in his actions, I don’t think we should ignore that this scenario can — and does — occur.
An Empathetic Employer Benefits by Showing Compassion to Employees
Some employers argue that there is no place for compassion in the workplace; employees are there to do a job. But we have to be an empathetic employer, cognizant of our surroundings and the people who work with us. Part of that effort could be to listen to our coworkers, especially for signs that there may be an issue of concern.
We have the opportunity to potentially defuse violent situations by being an empathetic employer and placing ourselves in the shoes of the individual in question. When dealing with human emotions, a little empathy goes a long way.
About the Author
Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.
Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and influential leader, manifesting people skills, a systematic approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.
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