Emotional empathy can drive SME performance – Employees to show more empathy to SME business owners

18 Jun

Emotional empathy can drive SME performance – Employees to show more empathy to SME business owners

At wattsnext we are in the privileged position to work closely with many business owners who are so emotionally engaged with their business that they “hurt” when things are not going right.

When I say hurt, this is deep emotional, psychological responses and to some extents physical illness when things aren’t going right in their business. I feel this is often overlooked or under-appreciated. When I study the employee / employer relationships in business I often identify a disconnect between the employees understanding of what is going on from an emotional level with their managers or the business owner.

This essentially is a continuum of the “us vs them” or “workers vs bosses” mentalities of by-gone eras. Modern workplaces have changed at a rate that has surpassed such old-school thinking, to a day where many companies are focusing heavily on employee engagement, retention, and satisfaction as a driver for improved business performance.

Being “nice” to employees is the stated norm in high-society positions of large corporates, but when you break things down to small businesses the ability to satisfy such intrinsic needs of the employees is often unable to happen due to the tight constraints of business or financial position of the company. I therefore, think that the expectations of employees should also change to understand these dynamics. This will ensure that employees measure apples with apples, or not to judge small business against the benchmarks of big business.

Remember, when an employee finishes work they can mostly switch off, yet for the business owner their emotional attachment will continue with them.  The emotional burdens carry onwards even once the business door closes for the day, and it is these emotional issues that also keep them awake at night.

  • What to do with the that loyal but poor performing employee that everyone likes?
  • Why can’t the two bickering employees understand that they are effecting the moral of others?
  • I worry about the employee who regularly jokes about drinking too much – are they alright with their work and home life – what can I do?
  • The next deal is critical to cash-flow with pay day and other bill approaching their deadlines. Will we have enough cash to pay everyone?

These situations and the million more daily emotions that business owners commonly face compound to a level of emotional attachment that in worse case scenarios can induce anxieties and depressions which can cause decision paralysis in businesses.

I implore that workers need to take the owner’s perspectives more into consideration when working in their business, or passing judgement on the actions the business owners need to take. This will help with alignment to the purpose of the company, and move a person further forward than a narrow self-fulfilling meaning to work i.e. I do it to get paid, to serve on a level where they can contribute to a greater level and service to multiple people i.e. I do it so other people can also prosper.

Such an attitude shift through a greater empathy for the business owner could provide many self-directed answers that don’t become the burden of the business owners, removing a lot of small weights that can slow down the businesses performance.

At wattsnext we get the chance to improve these situations through our daily interactions with many staff and business owners. Establishing meaningful dialogue between parties and building inter-connecting frameworks that promote a greater understanding of the business operations and objectives are part of the solutions we regularly provide to help the employee and employer relationship move to ta high performing level. If empathy towards the business is missing, we can help align these messages so that the business owners aren’t obligated to hold it all on their shoulders. This is where we really seek to build positively on the emotional connections our business owners and employees can share. I am a big believer in empowering employees to craft their own happiness, and see that looking after the happiness of the business owner is one way of ensuring life can be more enjoyable.

John F Kennedy asked his constituents to consider “not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. From our experiences, getting employees to consider changing “country” for “company” and think how things look from the owners perspective can be a key driver for improved business performance.

Matthew Stent , HR Strategist

Matthew is an internationally experienced human resources practitioner having more than 15 years of experience working within the international public sector, global projects community, multi-national companies, and local firms.

  • Luke Field

    Great article! It’s hard knowing how to connect your employees with the gravit health of both the business owner and the business. Are there some basic strategies you could elaborate on that SME owners might employ?

    1. admin

      Thanks Luke,

      Grateful for the feedback and I am glad you have got some value from the article.

      Getting the small things right can add up to big gains. SME’s are especially vulnerable to the effects of employee engagement due to a single person having such an impact on the well-being of the company (i.e 1 person in a 5-person company = 20% available performance).

      One key is building accountability to business results, so that performance can be accurately measured for reward or discipline. This comes through good manager interactions, regular feedback and goal tracking and use of HR frameworks (Job Descriptions, Contracts and Policies). This also enables SME business to maintain agility. Quick changes are essential to ensure financial performance is not eroded to deeply.

      Transparency can have as much upside as there are downsides, particularly if the arrows aren’t pointing upwards. This is where the fight or flight response gets activated and loyalties can be tested, but by positively framing talk around solutions or future-focused conversations, we can control the conversations, as much in our own heads, and in theirs.

      At wattsnext we have a value that says “in tough times we fight”. This reminds us that there will always be a mixture of good and bad days in business. Using your values to align to your purpose is a key way of making sure they are real and not just “words written on the wall”.

      Utilizing support networks, potentially of other SME business owners, may also offer some relief to perceived burdens. As the old saying goes, “a problem shared is a problem halved” Yes – No? either way, having someone to talk to about it can take the isolation out of being a SME business owner and the person who needs to have all the answers and make all the decisions.

      As a completely biased plug, the wattsnext team are openly encouraged to look at things from the owners perspective. This gives us a deep connection to the business, and the owners as we will seek to lesson some of the burdens by providing our expert service and developing industry leading and world-class solutions that put long-term solutions in place.

      Best regards


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