The Evolution of Work and Why Empathy is More Important Than Ever

August 22, 2019 in People Analytics

The Evolution of Work and Why Empathy is More Important Than Ever

Inspired by the Forbes article, Humans are Underrated, Fortune, 2015

The rise of the “head down” mentality at work.

The shift in skill values that formed the industrial economy in Western nations by the mid-18th century took 100 years.  The subsequent shift to a knowledge-based economy took much of the 20th century. During these times, positive employee performance was highly determined by how “machine-like” you could execute your duties. Heads down, highly-productive, low-cost, follow the SOP without fail, but soon that would change for an empathy forward approach in the workplace.

Tech forces us to be human.

Now, the pace of change in technology is driving a shift in skill values that is happening faster than education systems, corporations, governments, and the human brain can keep up with.  Key positive performance indicators have shifted from machine-like to heart-based soft skills. So, what are those skills we are so desperately trying to develop?

  • Empathy
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Leadership
  • Relationship building

As technology replaces technical jobs in manufacturing and service industries at an accelerating pace, skills that are considered “human” are growing rapidly in demand.  At the same time, one of the most important among them, empathy, is in decline.

A study released in 2010 that analyzed levels of empathy in 14,000 college students since 1979 showed a steady state of decline.  Further studies have proven that empathy also declines with age. What does this mean? Consider that these college grads now range in age from 30 – 60.  They are quite likely to be leading teams, departments, entire organizations all over the world!  If these are today’s leaders, what opportunity exists for the organizations and leaders who actually invest in, and master, soft skills like empathy?

Empathy closes the gap.

With technology replacing many technical jobs, those that will remain are intensely human.  Our infrastructure can’t keep up with technological change to close the gap in soft skill development to equip workers and leaders in the age of technology.

The answer: Invest in yourself, invest in your people to develop the skills required to collaborate, create, build relationships and teams.  Empathy is a building block.  At BU, we value vulnerability, gratitude and active listening on top of that. Our final advice is to embrace being intensely human and you’ll forever have job security.

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