Empathy is the new black

I feel highlighting the importance of empathy, even for trend's sake, showcases big gaping holes in businesses and how they conduct themselves. And, if that creates change, I’m here for it.

I suppose by now you’re well aware of the terms ‘quiet quitting’ and ‘the great resignation’? They’re both perfect examples that workplaces need to go beyond the free pizza on Friday mentality and actually focus on the wellbeing of their teams. Burnout culture is out, empathy led culture is in.

Gen Z is leading the way by choosing to work for organisations that look after and value their staff, and do you know what KUDOS kids, a round of applause. As a top-end millennial, I’m not disgruntled by this, more impressed, and you should be too. 

The pandemic changed us

We’re no longer in the world we were in pre-pandemic, things have changed, mostly for the better. Access to remote working has shown that we don’t need to work in offices to get work done. Sure, there are some cases where we need to be onsite for our roles, but if your work can be done remotely, there is no excuse why it can’t be. Now, that doesn’t mean everyone wants to work from home, in fact, I come to my studio every day to separate work from home (no one else is here). For others, being at home enables them to thrive in productivity, what business leader doesn’t want that from their team? 

The benefits of remote work? Opening the doors to women, working parents (my husband spends so much time with our kids now), neurodivergent folk, disabled people, regional areas having access to metro located roles, and the ability to work from home sick should you want to. 

Empathy promotes a deeper understanding

From surface value, we can make assumptions about someone. When using empathy and truly understanding someone's situation, we’re able to see things from different perspectives and really see our people. Not only that, but when you show your team you care, they begin to care too. In most cases, people want to feel valued and supported. It was one of the reasons I stayed at my old agency for over a decade, I hated the work, but loved the culture and felt really looked after. I now choose to run my business with a similar, yet improved, human-centred approach; we’re a 4 day week, we let the team take split breaks and come back when they’re on, not feel guilty for calling sick or having an appointment, provide super payments on top of mat leave, encourage them regularly, send spontaneous appreciation messages and gifts, and always ask how they’re feeling etc. When you learn about your people, you build deeper connections with them. Support them, value them, listen to them, and show up, and then they will do the same for you. 

After all, workplace culture is a big part of internal branding, if you have a thriving internal culture it ripples through the way people conduct themselves within the business, right through to the way they treat your clients and customers. 

Bringing empathy into your business

Try empathy mapping. Not only does it work for internal reasons, but it’s also a fantastic way to build genuine relationships with your future and existing customers. The 4 key areas are:

  1. Hear - What are they hearing? How are they influenced?

  2. Think and feel - What are their motivators? What problems do they have?

  3. Say and do - What actions are they taking? What attitude do they have?

  4. See - What environment are they in? What are they consuming?

When you build a deeper understanding of a person, it opens up an avenue of opportunity to begin problem-solving. A quick Google search of ‘empathy mapping’ will bring you up an array of examples like the above by Nielsen Norman Group on buying a TV.

Building empathy into a business strategy is not only important, but it’s also necessary for truly understanding a person. This is why design thinking has started to build hype, as organisations are beginning to see that a structured approach isn’t always the right approach. For more on design thinking, check out a previous article I wrote ‘design thinking can be your key to brand growth’. When we begin to step outside what we consider to be the right way and start observing, we’ll truly begin to understand the internal motivators of people and how they make decisions. 

Tara Ladd is the Founder and Creative Director atYour One and Only, a women-led brand agency that uses design as a tool for connecting with real people. She’s had over 15 years of agency experience in design and brand. Outside of that she is a passionate advocate for equality and hosts the podcastThe Word V, which discusses the systemic issues around working women, motherhood, and society. You can find her sharing insights on brand, design and culture over on Instagram and Linkedin, teaching the fundamentals of design via online mini sessions in Designs Cool, or giving brand tips in her free E-series Branding Beneath the Surface.


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