Is Empathy the key to better well being?

Against a backdrop of globally rising anxiety, depression numbers at their highest, and never-ending social uncertainty, the pandemic continues to create a re-imagining of what health and wellness mean to us. As we enter a year that may also offer us the worst economic downturn seen, our wellbeing has never been more important.

In a recent report on mental health and wellbeing in Europe survey conducted by AXA, 64% of respondents said their stress levels had increased since before the pandemic, while 81% said that they had a state of mental stress. Further research from O.C. Tanner 2021 Global Culture Report, which surveyed 40,000 employees and leaders worldwide, shows that Covid has driven burn out rates up by 81%. The connection between our mass uncertainty surrounding job security, financial hardship, a lack of social contact, and a potentially fatal virus has led us to see the highest emotional stress levels in many years. We are living in tenuous times.

Could higher levels of empathy be a key part of our recovery?

Whilst empathy alone won't solve the extent of our emotional challenges, our connectivity as people will go a significant way in building the foundations we need to recover. As human beings, our need to belong is evolutionary. It can see it throughout society, and it fundamentally drives our wellness, happiness, and even our immunity. People spend a great deal of time, ensuring they are understood and recognized as part of social groups, igniting their own identity and safety by doing so. Our ability to understand each other and connect is deeply intertwined with our mental health and strength. We are quite literally built to seek social companionship and understanding, and it is deeply interlinked with our resilience and ability to thrive in adversity.

Human beings are an ultra-social species, and our nervous systems expect to have others around us. Emiliana Simon Thomas, a PhD, Science Director of the Greater Good Science Center at The University of California, Berkeley. Given this ongoing macro reality, we see an overt need and demand for emotional wellbeing support in the workplace. As human beings, we do far better together than we do apart, and the pandemic has altered our requirements for finding this at work and home. If there was ever a time for HR and leadership teams to shine and prove a connected and emotionally intelligent organizational culture, it is now. It has become a criterion for both performance and loyalty. Seeing people for their own unique circumstances has become the need of the hour. Regenerating trust and conversation via open and empathetic communication has become a key differentiator in the companies that thrive.

Research indicates that being able to use empathy in all environments, home, and work is crucial for our mental health and adds immeasurably to our wellness. This may be why we see such a fast evolution in our understanding of this ancient skillset that we are born with. As we face many more months of disruption and the widespread fear of never seeing the end deepen, we all need to commit to extending our innate understanding of one another far beyond our own bubbles alone. We could argue that our survival as a healthy and strong society depends on it.

After 30 years of declining empathy levels, this skillset may be in short supply, but our need to change this has never been in higher demand. As our collective understanding of this rises, we see a widespread recognition that humans need to be more connected, more aligned, kinder, and more than we have seen in the isolated freefall of the last three decades. This is a survival imperative.

True empathy may not be easy to master, but it is the most powerful expression of our shared humanity. It may just be the sharpest tool we have for our emotional recovery in a world of continued turmoil.

To stay motivated and to achieve better wellbeing, read the recent inspiring stories of 'Women First' achievers