POINT-of-WORK: Empathy at the Hands of Performance Support?

A recent article in Forbes caught my interest on Monday when forwarded on LinkedIn by a friend and colleague, Chris Quinn – Half of U.S. Employees Are Actively Searching for a  New Jobby Shep Hyken on Jul 1, 2018. Everything in the article rung true; however, it struck me that everything being done or should be considered to promote empathy in the workplace left an important gap – the context around Why is empathy not being felt? Where is this lack of empathy showing up? How should we generate empathy? While the article addressed the lack of empathy very well, it struck me that a very basic need was overlooked – Job Satisfaction at Point-of-Work.

Here’s the quote that tripped my trigger – “If you ask people to describe what empathy means, you’re likely to hear words such as understanding, sympathy, compassion, responsiveness, identity, recognition, consideration, thoughtfulness, kindness, concern, sensitivity, flexibility and care.”

Hopefully you agree there is nothing out of place on that list above. It’s what was not on that list that gave me pause to ask, “AND?” What about DOING good in addition to FEELING good? All the data in the article paints a scary picture of workers considering leaving their jobs, but what’s underneath the data…the WHY…is even scarier. Scarier because of what we are not doing because it’s being overlooked.

To me, showing empathy toward our employees certainly needs all these things. The parallel I see is this…

In many ways this perceived lack of empathy is a lot like workforce performance…not what we do to ensure it, but what is not done to enable it.

Sure, it feels great to be recognized and rewarded for a job well done…that truly shows empathy. But consider this…would enabling the workforce with the right tools and resources at their moments of need that enable them to deliver “a job well done” also demonstrate a source of empathy and caring from the company? None of that is on the author’s list, and methinks it should be close to the top. Blame it on my bias, but I’m convinced Point-of-Work must be the starting point to discover what’s causing the disconnect…and why. Only then can informed steps be taken to close the gap(s).

Quick Story Example

I’ve been engaged in workforce strategy and performance assessments in several call centers in my day and know how huge employee turnover really is. Many agents bail out because job satisfaction is not something routinely experienced in their role. Many centers turn over their entire staff in less than a year. Certainly, the job is stressful and high burnout is to be expected, but what’s behind the stress?

No doubt the nature of steady incoming calls and endless unhappy callers play a huge role, but what else is that agent fighting against to survive each call? Complex systems? Poor access to resources and information? Constantly changing products and promotions? Changing systems and processes? Inability to remember everything trained during onboarding? I’m sure you can think of others… Every one of these sources of stress are work related but also contribute to job frustration and ultimately job satisfaction.

Like air traffic controllers, when are call center agents’ screens not full of incoming traffic? It’s continuous until the shift ends. My point is simply this – If we cannot control the work environment fraught with urgency and stress, do we do enough to enable workforce success at the Point-of-Work, and more specifically, the moment of need? We must take aggressive steps to enable the workforce and first-hand experiences demonstrate that training is not the answer, nor is the balance of the list human feelings of comfort and fulfillment shown above. THAT was what I found missing in steps taken by companies to demonstrate caring toward the workforce.

Is Performance Support at Point-of-Work the Solution?

Honestly, there is no single solution, in fact, it is virtually impossible to derive any optimized blended solution if Point-of-Work is not included in whatever assessment regimen applied. Applying Performance Support and PS technology cannot be expected to solve the problems if those components are not part of an ecosystem-based solution. Empathy is as much a part of the ecosystem as tactical prowess…but both are joined at the hip. Performance Support is a step in the right direction, but whatever PS assets are designed, developed and delivered they should be road mapped from the findings of a Point-of-Work Assessment – PWA whether it’s mine or something home-grown. A few right things are essential, when present and accessible, demonstrate the empathetic caring that appears to be missing.

I wrote a post a couple of years ago – “7-Right Things Road Map for Sustained Workforce Performance”, and I’ve listed them below. Check the post link for the whole story…


2.     Accessible by the RIGHT USERS


4.     In the RIGHT AMOUNT

5.     In the RIGHT FORMAT

6.     To/From the RIGHT DEVICES

7.     Revealing the RIGHT EVIDENCE OF IMPACT

In the enabling act of converging learning with work these 7 right things will not be informed by a Training Needs Assessment. We must dig into Point-of-Work to learn what each “right thing” is for each task and role-level performance requirement.

Is there a connection between engagement on the job and feeling like the company has empathy toward not only the worker, but the worker’s success? I’m not so certain there is enough of a dividing line between the two to even attempt to treat one without considering the benefits of the other. In other words, I firmly believe that the actions we take to enable our workforce to be successful in DOING their jobs must be no less intentional than making them FEEL good about themselves in their company relationship. Demonstrate empathy through enablement seems like a great place to start.

Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Advocate, Coach, Speaker
(317) 437-2555
Web: Living In Learning