During the past 3 years in Sri Lanka, we are seeing leadership teams continue to re-imagine what wellness means in the workplace, and how this will impact their people and profits in the year ahead. A reassessment of ‘business as usual’ has become fundamental if we are to protect our talent and business potential in a sustainable way. This World Mental Health Day, as the workforce continues to demand more understanding and engagement, could higher levels of empathy be a key part of engaged leadership and healthier teams in 2023?

As human beings our need to belong is evolutionary. It can be seen throughout society, and it fundamentally drives our wellness, happiness and immunity. People spend a great deal of time ensuring they are understood and recognized as part of social groups. Our ability to understand each other at work and connect in teams is deeply intertwined with our mental health and strength. We seek social companionship and understanding, and it is deeply interlinked with our resilience and ability to thrive in adversity.

Emiliana Simon-Thomas, PhD, Science Director of the Greater Good Science Center at The University of California, Berkeley states, “Human beings are an ultra-social species – and our nervous systems expect to have others around us.” Given we spend 5/7s of every week at work, these connections are a critical demand on all C-suite leaders to provide environments and opportunities to drive these connections. 

In Sri Lanka, we are seeing an overt demand for elevated emotional wellbeing and understanding in the workplace. If there was ever a time for HR and leadership teams to prove a connected and emotional intelligent organisational culture, it is now. It has become a criterion for both elevated performance and sustained loyalty. Seeing team members for their own unique circumstances has become vital and regenerating trust and conversation via open and empathetic communication has become a key differentiator in successful companies.

Research indicates that being able to use empathy in all environments is crucial for our mental health. It adds immeasurably to our wellness and therefore our ability to perform and thrive in all areas of life. As we continue to face months of disruption ahead, all senior leadership teams need to commit to extending their innate understanding of their people and the culture and purpose they work within.

After 30 years of declining empathy levels, this skillset may be scarce but our need to change this has never been in higher demand by business owners. As our collective organisational understanding of this rises across enterprises, we are seeing a widespread recognition that employees need to be more connected, aligned, and cohesive than in the past three decades.

True empathy may not be easy to master but it is the most powerful expression of our shared humanity and, in today’s tumultuous world, it may just be the sharpest leadership transformation tool that we have for the future.

Mimi Nicklin is the Creative CEO and Founder of inclusive creative agency Freedm, a leading organisational consultant in Sri Lanka, and best-selling author of Softening The Edge. For more information visit https://www.empathyeverywhere.co/ 

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