The Power of Empathy in Employee Performance Reviews

by Lauren Girardin on February 16, 2017

Learn how empathy enhances the value of your employee performance reviews and fosters a more successful and supportive culture in your agency.

Empathy is the practice being aware of and sensitive to the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of others. In a wonderful RSA video, research professor Dr. Brené Brown explains the four attributes of empathy:

  1. To be able to see the world as others see it
  2. To be nonjudgmental
  3. To understand another person’s feelings
  4. To communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings

employee performance reviews.jpgSome might try to dismiss empathy as bringing unnecessary emotion into a professional process. This overlooks the fact that empathy is a predictor of professional success and effective leadership. Rest assured, empathy is a hard skill that can be learned, measured, and improved through training and effort.

Empathy is powerful stuff. By bringing empathy into your employee performance reviews, your organization can improve the process for employees and managers alike. You can also increase the positive organizational outcomes that result from well-run, productive employee performance reviews.

What can your organization gain by infusing empathy into your employee performance reviews? Let's discuss five ways empathy can influence your organization.

With empathy, you’ll treat employees like they matter.

When you’re busy controlling costs and plowing through paperwork, it’s easy to think of your organization’s employees as little more than numbers on a spreadsheet.

Practicing empathy in employee performance reviews restores the process so it is deeply person-focused. Empathy can enhance your employee performance reviews by helping your organization prioritize the very thing it’s trying to improve: the people who are your employees.

With empathy, you can identify critical skill-building needs.

Performance reviews are about helping each employee be more successful in order to improve overall organizational performance. You’ll better understand what might be keeping individual employees from working at their full potential when you better empathize with each person you employ.

Empathy can help you become more attuned to the needs of each employee, and their individual capacity for growth and change. This can lead to a better and more nuanced understanding of the wide variety of skills your staff needs to develop so your organization can achieve its goals and become an employer of choice.

With empathy, you can learn surprising things about your organization.

By taking the time to understand the perspectives of each of your employees during a performance review, you’ll gain deeper insights into the true strengths and weaknesses of your organization. These are insights you might've never attained if you didn’t seek out and value diverse points of view.

Through empathy, you’ll be able to see the world – and your shared workplace – through the eyes of each of your employees. Their unique perspective will shine a light on overlooked problems and worthwhile new solutions.

With empathy, you can increase employee retention.

If an employee is not meeting their goals, empathy can diffuse the anxiety, disappointment, or confusion they may be feeling. If they’re dissatisfied with their job or have another complaint, an empathetic conversation can reassure them that their concern has been acknowledged, and reduce frustration and impatience. Or, if an employee is exceeding expectations, empathy can help them associate their positive emotions with their place of employment.

These types of positive outcomes can help your organization build stronger employee relationships, improve employee job satisfaction, and increase employee retention.

With empathy, employees will benefit, too.

When employees feel heard and understood during a performance review, they’ll be more confident that the organization is looking out for their needs and feelings. They’ll know they work for an employer they can trust to listen to their concerns.

This trust can encourage employees to take the feedback in their employee performance review seriously, and cooperate with whatever changes are necessary. This, ultimately, is what will lead your organization to greater success.

Learn more about how you can leverage performance reviews to improve the employee-manager relationship and communicate more empathetically today.

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Lauren Girardin

Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, writer, and speaker based in San Francisco. She helps organizations engage their communities and tell their stories. Her website is and you can connect with her on Twitter at @girardinl.

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