Why is empathy missing in the Indian workplace

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15 Nov 2022

The 2016 Empathy Index reflected that of the 170 companies studied, eight Indian ones were in the bottom 20 of the pile. Simply speaking, Indian companies showed, in relative terms, the lowest levels of empathy towards their employees and if you are an Indian employee working in one of the great Indian firms, you may relate to this statement quite well.

The fact of Indian economy has been that in the race to grow, as a company, most organisations have transformed themselves into production machines. True, the productivity and the GDP has risen but the human aspect of work has gradually died. 

A glance at the parameters used to create the Empathy Index would reveal the reasons behind the loss of empathy at workplaces in India.

The study used ethics, leadership, company culture, brand perception, and public messaging through social media for measuring empathy and publicly available metrics including CEO approval ratings from staff, the ratio of women on boards, and the number of accounting infractions and scandals were used to come to a conclusion. 

If you look at most organisations in India, there’s hardly one where ethics is instructed as a matter of day-to-day code.

Rarely does a company invest in ethical training of its employees or even its management? ‘Chalta hai’ works.

As far as company culture is concerned, there is hardly even one which can boast of a culture as dynamic, vibrant, and inclusive as that of the global leaders like Google or Facebook. A lot of Indian companies actually have exclusionary cultures which create alienation among the employees. 

Brand perception and public messaging among Indian companies are oriented towards increasing their market presence rather than creating an empathetic environment within the company.

Further, the information available on metrics like the ratio of women board members is dismally low. And if we talk about the CEO approval ratings from staff, a lot of Indian employees would agree that it’s hardly positive. 

So, where does it leave us?

Indian companies have tried creating a scenario where work matters above people. The simple fact that at least a hundred ready replacements can be found for any position means that employees have become expendable. This, when combined with the already low wage structure of Indian companies, means that more and more people are willing to work at lower prices just to have a job.

A company, which is established to make profits, then hardly cares if the employee is satisfied, let alone suffering. Needless to say, the concept of creating an employee-friendly culture or promoting ethical values or empathetic practices never really gained priority status among Indian companies, from the management’s side. 

And it is not just the management which is to be blamed. The lack of empathy is visible between employees as well.

Gradually, the thought of self-promotion has seeped into the work culture wherein the race to grow one’s career at any cost has replaced the value of taking people along. It is not something which can be measured but is felt every day by millions of employees all over the country. An employee’s concern is no longer the organisation’s concern, despite what their ads or HR department proclaims.

But even worse is the fact that there is a close-to-zero acknowledgment of this issue, let alone a mean to redress it.

The employee is merely a cog and they are internalising it. And if something goes wrong, the employee would have the company’s sympathy but not its empathy.

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