It wouldn’t be the holidays without the annual company holiday party, right? This year, maybe not so much.
As allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct sweep nationwide through industries from entertainment to government, companies are reflecting on how holiday parties could set the stage for inappropriate behavior. Alcohol-fueled events can result in uncomfortable or even unsafe situations, and in light of recent events, companies are taking a serious look this holiday season at whether to take the “drink” out of “eat, drink, and be merry.”
In fact, among companies hosting a holiday party this year, less than half will serve alcohol at the event, a drop from 62% in 2016. Researchers attribute the shift to the “Weinstein effect,” or additional caution and care toward employees following the wave of sexual harassment and assault accusations involving powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Some companies, including media firm Vox, are doing away with an open bar at their holiday party, and 11% of employers aren’t having a holiday party at all, up sharply from 4%.
As an HR professional, of course I support and applaud employers’ efforts to maintain a safe and inclusive work environment, even at after-hours social events. However, if these recent events have shown us anything, it’s surely that the efforts to maintain a safe workplace can’t begin and end in December.
Rather, a culture of empathy year-round brings more transparency, equality, physical safety, and emotional safety that can begin to stamp out the “Weinstein effect” once and for all. Research shows that in 2016, the top two drivers of employee engagement were feeling heard and emotional safety, a dramatic shift from salary and benefits in 2007. In addition, 62% of employees say they would quit their job immediately if they felt emotionally unsafe, and 58% would do the same for feeling physically unsafe.
Empathy can be the difference-maker in all of these statistics. According to the Workplace Empathy Monitor, here are four HR cornerstones to an empathetic work environment:
For starters, put more women in leadership: 82% of CEOs say companies would be more empathetic with more women in leadership roles, and 72% of employees with a female CEO rate their organization as empathetic. Then, recruit empathetic people: More than half of all respondents in all segments (employees, HR pros, and CEOs) said that building an empathetic culture comes from recruiting the right people. There are plenty of tools to assist with this; at Businessolver, we use the Gallup Strengths Finder and Caliper Assessment.
Close to 60% of all employees, HR pros, and CEOs believe empathy can be learned; they’re right! There are multiple in-person and online training modules that can help teams with perspective taking; seeing and understanding another’s point of view is the main building block of showing empathy. Also, peer-to-peer mentoring is widely viewed as an empathetic behavior.
Understand and honor generational preferences in what empathy looks like on a one-on-one level: Our research shows 88% of Millennials think free food at work demonstrates empathy, compared to 78% of Gen Xers; 71% of Millennials think help adopting a pet demonstrates empathy, compared to 59% of Boomers. Laughing together and recognizing personal milestones is more empathetic to Millennials than Gen Xers or Boomers; and talking to someone in person instead of online is more empathetic to Boomers than Gen Xers or Millennials.
Does that mean your company should offer free food, pet insurance, and ban email? Of course not. But staying attuned to employees varying needs and priorities makes them feel heard, understood, and ultimately more emotionally safe.
Use performance reviews to hold employees accountable and reward them for empathetic behaviors: 84% of CEOs, 64% of HR pros, and 59% of employees believe employees who don’t demonstrate empathy should be let go. Using the outcomes from training and mentoring programs can offer sound insight into how empathy is spreading across your organization.