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Why Your Organization Should Hire for Empathy

How many times have you heard a CEO or executive say that people are a company’s greatest asset? And have you seen those same leaders treat people unfairly and with disrespect? Too often, business leaders don’t “walk the talk” when it comes to putting themselves in their workers’ shoes.


Life and work have become much more stressful for the average worker over the past twenty years. Now more than ever, empathy is a crucial emotional intelligence competency for fostering a healthy, collaborative workplace culture. I’ll focus a separate article on how to develop and show empathy in the workplace, but right now, let’s examine how your organization can start adding empathy rather than draining it from the company’s talent pool.


What is Empathy? 


Empathy is a crucial relationship-building skill: the ability to put yourself in another person’s place and sense their emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what they might be thinking or feeling.


What Behaviors Demonstrate Empathy?


Key indicators of empathy include sensing other people’s feelings and perspectives and taking an active interest in their concerns. This includes sensing their development needs and bolstering their abilities. Empathy requires genuine engagement in non-judgmental dialogue, because unless you put judgment aside, empathy is impossible.


Examples of Empathy in the Workplace


The workplace affords many opportunities to behave empathetically when interacting with others. One example is a manager or coworker checking on another employee when they sense something is bothering them.


Another example is thoughtfully choosing the right time, place, and words to have a crucial conversation with an employee, or when holding a teammate accountable.


One last example of empathy is reacting in a calm and appreciative way when we receive criticism, rather than losing control of our emotions, getting defensive, and possibly “attacking” the messenger.


These examples all clearly illustrate how exhibiting empathy can enhance the workplace.


The Decline of Empathy


Given the positive impact of the examples of empathy above, it’s unfortunate that we’re steadily losing empathy not just in in the workplace, but also in the wider world. We’ve assessed over 2.5 million candidates with our emotional intelligence assessment over the last 20 years, and the data shows that empathy is the emotional intelligence competency that has diminished the most during that time.


Let me say that again, over the past 20 years, empathy is the emotional intelligence competency that has diminished the most over a 20-year time period.


Technology such as smartphones and social media is a key driver of the empathy deficit, and the data shows that empathy is eroding very fast. People are emotionally and socially driven and yet the current processes of the working world have conditioned them to act in an unfeeling way. The divisive world in which we live is also causing people to be increasingly judgmental, which is a key blocker to empathy.


The data also suggests that, if you want to gain a competitive advantage for your organization, then you need to assess, interview, and hire for this crucial competency.


Why is Empathy Important in the Workplace?


Empathy can be assessed during the recruitment process, but many companies are simply focusing on technical skills. Hiring for empathy has many benefits in the work culture, such as:


  • Encouraging collaboration and innovation

  • Positively impacting customer satisfaction and retention

  • Enhancing employee engagement retention

  • Increasing psychological safety

  • Building and supporting a strong, positive culture


Competency-Based Interview Questions for Empathy


Here are 10 legally reviewed, competency-based interview questions you can use in interviews to evaluate the empathy of your candidates. Combine these with the ZERORISK Hiring System Emotional Intelligence assessment to ensure you’re adding empathy to your culture.


  • Give me an example of a time when your approach with someone was too direct. How and when did you realize you needed to adjust your approach?

  • Can you think of a coworker who saw things differently from you? Give me an example of a time when this happened and how you addressed the situation.

  • Describe a situation where you were able to strengthen a relationship by communicating effectively. What made your communication effective?

  • Tell me about a time when you worked with someone who was too blunt or direct in their approach with you. What did you do? Did your communication with that person improve?

  • Describe a time when you had to deliver tough news to someone. Who was it, what were the circumstances, and how did the situation turn out?

  • Give me an example of a situation where you had to mediate a conflict between team members. How did you show empathy for each party involved in working towards a resolution? What was the outcome?

  • Give me an example of when you had a positive impact on a teammate or direct report.

  • Describe a situation where you needed to understand and support a diverse group of colleagues in the workplace.

  • Tell me about a time when you noticed a colleague struggling with a personal issue that affected their work performance. How did you support them?

  • Give me an example of when you received critique from a manager or teammate. Who gave you the feedback, how did it make you feel, and how did you respond in the moment and afterwards?

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