Embracing Empathy in Ethics: The Human Side of Compliance

May 29, 2024

Empathy is the fuel that keeps ethical businesses running. You know your leaders and employees are empathetic when they understand and share the feelings of those around them. Empathetic leaders are skilled at putting themselves in the shoes of others, reacting with compassion, and doing everything in their capacity to ensure people feel heard and valued. 

Creating a culture of ethics and compliance often starts with building empathetic connections, so “doing the right thing” becomes the everyday norm. 

Why Empathy Matters + How Embracing Empathy Starts with Empathetic Leadership 

Your managers and leaders must be capable of moving your business forward during both good and difficult times. That demands looking beyond traditional business skills and focusing on empathetic leadership, a soft skill that companies often fail to include as a performance indicator. 

Empathetic leadership involves having the emotional intelligence to understand the needs, feelings, and thoughts of people. It involves being more person-focused to improve social interactions, instill ethical behavior in others, build healthy relationships, fast-track conflict resolution, and ultimately maintain compliance. According to data, “50% of people with empathetic leaders reported their workplace was inclusive,” and 76% of them experienced increased engagement. 

How Empathy Impacts Ethics and Compliance 

People who keep your organization running – whether they’re your employees, customers, contractors, or suppliers – should be a critical part of your ethics and compliance program. Empathy is the one element that can encourage them to share your values of ethics. 

Facilitates Higher Emotional Intelligence 

Empathy contributes to a higher emotional intelligence so your team can recognize and manage their own emotions as well as those of others. Once everyone understands one another, they respond with greater empathy. When that happens, people feel encouraged to voice their concerns, point out wrongdoings, prioritize relationships over profits, and ultimately do the right thing, always. 

Contributes to Healthy Relationships

When people understand and cater to the needs of others, they build long-term, healthy relationships. Employees sharing a healthy relationship with their managers, for example, don’t hesitate to uncover unethical behavior. Leaders who prioritize empathy and ethics unlock honest dialogues across the organization so people feel encouraged to always side with “what’s right,” instead of “what’s legal.”

Improved Communication

Empathy fuels communication more than anything. With your people having the ability to easily connect with each other, they learn to express themselves clearly and listen actively. When we communicate and understand the experiences and perspectives of those around us, we become more proactive in supporting them. This contributes to a solid speak-up culture, with employees truly believing in their leaders’ capacity to resolve their issues and drive positive change. 

How Empathy Impacts Whistleblowing and Incident Response 

Your Whistleblowing and incident response program can only come to fruition if those who carry out the process have a strong sense of empathy.

Empathy Helps Cultivate a Solid Whistleblowing Culture

Empathy supplies your HR leaders and managers with strong listening and understanding skills. When your leaders are masters at thinking from the perspective of others and doing everything in their capacity to bring about a fair resolution, your culture takes a positive turn with everyone feeling heard and understood. 

An empathetic leader knows how to analyze a whistleblower report with fairness and honesty. They waste no time in conducting a thorough investigation and listen to both parties with zero bias. These leaders also know the importance of urgency when resolving sensitive matters. So, after the investigation, they take quick and proactive steps to plan a resolution strategy while keeping the whistleblower updated throughout the process. 

Once resolved, everyone in the organization understands your leaders’ commitment to resolving issues with absolute fairness. This encourages more people to speak up without hesitation until most instances of misconduct come out of hiding and your company becomes a safe space for everyone. 

Builds Trust and Open Communication

The greatest differentiator between an empathetic leader and a leader who only focuses on profits is their team’s ability to trust them fully. A culture of ethics emerges only when employees trust their leaders enough to communicate their concerns without fearing any negative consequences. By being empathetic, you create a safe space for everyone to communicate their needs and feelings openly.

Helps Create a Zero-Tolerance Policy for Misconduct 

Ethical leaders take every whistleblower report seriously and leave no stone unturned to resolve conflicts quickly and fairly. Once they spot wrongdoing, they see to it that those who commit it receive their punishment and take strategic steps to ensure similar behavior doesn’t occur in the future. 

How to Integrate Empathy in Your Organization 

Here’s how to create a culture of empathy and ethics in your organization:

Discuss the Value of Empathy in Ethics

The more you talk about empathy in the workplace, the more your people will understand its value. However demonstrating the value of ethics requires a strategic approach such as including ethics in yearly performance reviews, conducting engaging ethics training, rewarding good behavior, and more. 

Cultivate Compassion 

While your value statement may be an important moral compass, it’s critical to take on a more human approach when it comes to supporting your managers, employees, customers, and communities. Listen to “unsaid things” about how your people feel at the workplace and support managers who care about their teams. 

Empathy Starts from Top Down (Not Bottom Up)

For ethics to become “the norm” in your organization, your top leadership must demonstrate ethical behavior. Employees notice everything their leaders do. When a leader prioritizes ethics in their decision-making, for example, your employees reflect similar behavior when it comes to their own work. When a leader prioritizes self-gain and profits over doing the right thing, your workplace becomes toxic, with everyone looking out only for themselves. 

Put Yourself In Your People’s Shoes 

Ethics is all about understanding one another’s perspective. After all, how can you understand what your people feel and need when you fail to think from their perspective? Perspective-sharing is critical for solving issues, managing conflicts, and operating with fairness. 

Final Thoughts 

Driving ethical change starts with leaders. When managers and top leadership cultivate empathetic leadership skills, they ensure your people build healthy relationships, communicate openly, maintain honesty and transparency, and ultimately contribute to a thriving culture of ethics and compliance.