Happier employees can have a positive impact on your value chain

Caro Moore and Anthony Wang

Article|2023-12-04

6 minute read

Looking after employee wellbeing can spark an empathy chain reaction that travels through customers and out into wider society, says Caro Moore, Head of Digital Workplace Portfolio and Dr Anthony Wang, Head of Healthy Living Portfolio at Fujitsu.

Narrow-minded companies see their sole role as maximizing profit from their transactions with customers. Progressive organizations, however, realize that their brand has a deeper purpose. They understand that their status puts them in a position to spread wellbeing into various corners of society.

This wellbeing bullwhip effect often starts with nurturing the workplace culture. Research shows that companies with great employee experiences can generate higher-quality customer experiences.(*1)(*2) Meaningful brand interactions don’t just improve the day and even the quality of life of the customer, but also spread to the people and situations they go on to encounter in the wider community. This can trigger an empathy chain reaction that moves from the customer to other service staff, through social initiatives and to their own loved ones.

“Keeping employees happy and caring about their wellbeing has a massive impact on customers, colleagues and society as a whole.” - Dr. Anthony Wang

So how can companies spark these empathy chain reactions and improve the prosperity of the individuals they interact with, their communities and society as a whole?

Invest in wellbeing and psychological safety 

When businesses neglect employee wellbeing, the negative consequences affect staff, customers and wider communities. In healthcare, for instance, burnt-out caregivers might not have the capacity to make good decisions, says Dr Wang.

Unlike many industries where employee mistakes mostly end in frustration for customers, slip-ups in healthcare can be a case of life or death. Understaffing often accelerates employee turnover and can push professionals to quit their industry altogether. And in healthcare this attrition harms wider communities because it can limit access to medical support.

“If a customer is interacting with a worker who is under a lot of stress, the customer is going to internalize some of that stress and become less communicative. This leads to worsened outcomes for both customer and employee in the long term.” - Caro Moore

Supportive, psychologically safe workplaces, where ideas and concerns are discussed without shame, directly benefit employees and their customers. Open discussions create space for employees to receive support for their own mindsets and, in turn, empathize with customers and meet their needs. Dr Wang says that healthcare workers with positive attitudes are more likely to provide better medical care – not only because their positivity helps the patient’s mood and recovery, but because it increases the chances of an honest dialogue that can fast track finding the right treatment.

Helping employees to understand the value of their work can also boost their contentment and productivity. A study by Adam Grant, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, involving hospital cleaners found that when leadership reiterated the importance of the cleaners’ role in the overall patient care experience, the sanitation employees took fewer sick days and reported higher job satisfaction.

Sometimes, the answer lies in reversing the empathy chain reaction, so that customers are more empathetic toward employees. Storytelling is a powerful tool here, according to Moore. It’s an approach used by three UK companies in the Together Against Hate campaign, which told real-life stories from the perspectives of staff who were abused by customers.(*3) The campaign encouraged viewers to reflect on the impact of hateful comments, and was met with public support for customer service staff.(*4)

“People are better at taking in other perspectives when they're communicated through stories rather than rules.” - Caro Moore

To start an empathy chain reaction, listen to employee voices

Employees – especially those on the frontline – have an insider view on the processes and policies that complicate working life and frustrate customers. From a broader perspective, staff will have a steer on the social causes that are close to the hearts of your target audience. To surface these discoveries, organizations should build channels of communication where staff are actively listened to.

One of Australia’s largest hospital groups achieved this, explains Dr Wang, by creating a social-media-style app that accelerated internal information sharing. The app is used for announcing meetings, trading shifts and sharing best practice, which enhances the quality of patient care and reduces the risk of delays. By monitoring engagement metrics such as likes, shares and comments, the employer can gauge employee satisfaction and respond to concerns in real time.

Acting on employee insights will create benefits that ripple through your value chain. For instance, embedding technologies that help streamline process steps and reduce delays can prevent customer frustration and save employees from dealing with stressed clientele.

Leverage digital technology to create empathetic environments and encourage productivity to flow faster

As well as increased employee retention, which saves on hiring costs and minimizes losing valuable knowledge, removing pain points from the employee experience can increase output rates, says Moore. Harmonious work settings give employees the opportunity to achieve what is known as a “flow state” – when an individual is fully immersed in a task and reaches the peak of their productivity levels.

Regularly entering a flow state can aid innovation, collaboration and quality of work. But stress and interruptions will make that impossible.

In the healthcare sector, says Dr Wang, labor shortages and outdated systems typically force staff to spend time locating paperwork. This takes them away from their primary tasks, such as diagnosing conditions and prescribing medication, and blocks them from reaching a flow state that could have benefitted patients.

Technology can save your employees from wasting time on non-core tasks. Automation, for instance, can handle the high-volume, low-complexity activities that distract employees from their primary functions, while artificial intelligence (AI) can help with content creation and data analysis, improving the speed and results of high-value tasks.

“If technologies like AI can make even a 5% improvement in efficiency or productivity, that would have a huge impact on revenue and cost savings.” - Dr. Anthony Wang

In short: How to create an empathy chain reaction

Investing in a single point of your value chain can spread positive benefits through your company’s radius of influence. Remember these three golden rules for sparking empathy chain reactions:

  • Elevate employee voices to create an inclusive culture

    Psychologically safe workplaces can be created through thoughtful gestures such as allowing employees to take a mental health day. Also consider using technology to open channels of communication so you can hear and respond to employee feedback swiftly.

  • Address concerns and don’t be discouraged by setbacks in adoption

    When looking after employee needs, remember that success is not always guaranteed and change can be met with resistance initially. It can take time to work through changes with employees before a new initiative becomes productive.

  • Cultivate a flow state

    Using technology such as AI to reduce repetitive tasks can allow employees to immerse themselves in their primary roles. This creates a clear sense of purpose and allows them to fully focus on customer needs.

Small, achievable changes can go a long way in making the workplace a more empathetic environment. The rewards can spread far and wide – from employees and customers to society as a whole.