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Employees in small and mid-size organizations perceive CEOs and HR professionals to be more empathetic than their counterparts working for large employers.


This applies not only to their own CEO and HR staff, but to organizations, CEOs and HR in general and, in some cases, the differences are significant.

Organizations as a whole get fair to average marks overall from employees.

  • Just over half of those working for small (53%) and mid-sized (52%) employers feel that organizations and companies are empathetic.

  • By contrast, only 38% of those working for large employers feel the same, a difference of almost 50%.

The CEOs leading U.S. organizations and companies get the lowest ratings, especially from employees at large employers.

  • About half of those working for small (49%) and mid-size employers (50%) indicate that CEOs demonstrate empathy.

  • A third (33%) of employees at large organizations feel the same.

According to employees at all size organizations, HR professionals are the most empathetic.

  • Those working for small organizations gave HR a 69% positive rating, while employees at mid-size employers felt slightly more strongly at 71%.

  • Compared to both organizations and CEOs, those at large employers believe HR professionals are the most empathetic at 55%.

From our half-decade of research on workplace empathy, we know that this important value is multifaceted, and it goes beyond simply knowing people’s names and asking about their weekend. Organizations express empathy--and employees experience empathy--in myriad ways.

For example, values-based benefits that take into account and support people’s lives outside of work are considered an earmark of empathetic organizations. How managers interact with employees also matters, as different types of communication are considered more or less empathetic—with in-person meetings getting the highest scores.

So, what is driving the increased perception around empathy by those working for smaller employers?

These findings suggest that the interpersonal aspect of empathy may be giving smaller organizations an advantage.

The smaller an organization, the more likely employees both see and personally know their CEO and their HR professionals. Smaller organizations may have folks completely co-located (or at least they did prior to the pandemic). Even when large organizations inhabit a single building or campus, the fact that there are so many employees makes the type of personal interactions that may demonstrate empathy more challenging. You may feel a more powerful connection to the HR resource who is just down the hall versus the one you need to walk outside and across a plaza to meet with.

However, just because the structure of larger organizations don’t provide these spatial advantages, it doesn’t mean that empathy is elusive once your employee count exceeds a certain number.

It simply means bigger employers need to focus a bit more attention on this important workplace value to ensure they are connected to and supporting employees, especially during a pandemic when engagement and productivity are vital to organizational success.

For more insights on the connection between empathy and employer size, including how employees in different-size organizations rate their own employer, CEO and HR professionals, read our e-book.

bigger may not be better e-book

View all Posts by Jon Shanahan