Making Empathy Central to Your Company Culture

Making Empathy Central to Your Company Culture

In Tim Cook’s 2017 MIT commencement address, he warned graduates, “People will try to convince you that you should keep empathy out of your career.  Don’t accept this false premise.” The Apple CEO is not alone in recognizing and emphasizing the importance of empathy — the ability to share and understand others’ emotions — at work. At the time of his remarks, 20% of U.S. employers offered empathy training for managers. In a recent survey of 150 CEOs, over 80% recognized empathy as key to success.

Research demonstrates that Cook and other leaders are on to something. Empathic workplaces tend to enjoy stronger collaborationless stress, and greater morale, and their employees bounce back more quickly from difficult moments such as layoffs. Still, despite their efforts, many leaders struggle to actually make caring part of their organizational culture. In fact, there’s often a rift between the culture executives want from the one they have.

Imagine a company whose culture is defined by aggression and competition. The CEO realizes he and his colleagues can’t go on this way so he hastily rolls out empathy as a key new corporate value. It’s a well-intentioned move, but he has shifted the goal posts, creating distance between the organization’s ideals — prescriptions for how people ought to behave — and its current social norms—how most members of a group actually behave. He might hope this will put employees in an aspirational mood, but evidence suggests the opposite. When norms and ideals clash, people gravitate towards what others do, not what they’re told to do. What’s worse, people who adhered to the previous culture might feel betrayed or see leadership as hypocritical and out of touch.

Thankfully there’s a way to work with the power of social norms instead of against them, and consequently change cultures. As I describe in my book, The War for Kindness, people conform not just to others’ bad behaviors, but also adhere to kind and productive norms. For instance, after seeing people voteconserve energy, or donate to charity, people are more likely to do so themselves. My own research also demonstrates that empathy is contagious: people “catch” each other’s care and altruism. Here are a few ways leaders can leverage this insight to build empathy in their workplace.

Acknowledge the potential for growth. When people think of empathy as a trait that people either have or don’t have, it may seem out of reach. If you can’t learn something, why bother trying? Carol Dweck, Karina Schumman, and I have found that people who have this kind of “fixed mindset” around empathy work less hard to connect with others. If such beliefs permeate an organization, encouraging empathy as a collective value will fall flat.

The good news is that our mindsets can change. In a follow-up study as part of the research I mentioned above, my coauthors and I presented people with evidence that empathy is less like a trait and more like a skill. They responded by working harder at it, even when it didn’t come naturally. In other words, the first step towards building empathy is acknowledging that it can be built. Leaders should start by assessing the mindsets of their employees, and teaching them that they can indeed move towards their ideals.

Highlight the right norms. The loudest voices are seldom the kindest, but when they dominate conversations, they can also hijack our perceptions. Hard-partying college freshmen brag about their weekend exploits, and their peers end up thinking that the average student likes binge drinking more than they really do. When one team member loudly expresses a toxic attitude, colleagues can confuse theirs for the majority opinion. Such “phantom norms” can derail positive change when people conform to them.

Leaders can fight back against phantom norms by drawing attention to the right behaviors. At any moment, some individuals in an organization are acting kindly while others are not. Some are working together while others are competing. Empathy often belongs to a quiet majority. Foregrounding it — for instance through incentives and recognition — can allow employees to see its prevalence, turning up the volume on a positive norm.

Find culture leaders and co-create with themEvery group, whether it’s a NBA team, a corporate division, or a police department, has people who encourage team cohesion even though it’s not part of their formal role. These individuals might not be the most popular or powerful, but they are the most connected. Information, ideas, and values flow through them. They are their groups’ unsung influencers.

In a recent study, Betsy Levy Paluck and her colleagues used this wisdom to change culture in middle schools. They deputized students to create anti-bullying campaigns which were then spread around campus. The student deputies varied in how socially well-connected they were. Levy Paluck found that peer-led anti-bullying campaigns worked but were especially effective when they were helmed by the most connected students.

To build empathic cultures, leaders can begin by identifying connectors, and recruiting them for help championing the cause. This not only increases the likelihood that new ideals will “take”; it also allows employees to be recognized for connecting with others — highlighting another positive social norm at the same time.

Empathy deserves its buzzy status, and leaders are wise to desire it for their businesses. But to succeed in making it part of their organization’s DNA, they must pay close attention to how cultures build and change — organically, collectively, and often from the bottom up.

Jamil Zaki is a professor of psychology at Stanford University and author of The War For Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured WorldHis writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and The Wall Street Journal.

The article is taken from Harvard Business Review.

Effects of High vs. Low Glycemic Index of Post-Exercise Meals on Sleep and Exercise Performance: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Counterbalanced Polysomnographic Study

Effects of High vs. Low Glycemic Index of Post-Exercise Meals on Sleep and Exercise Performance: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Counterbalanced Polysomnographic Study

The aim of the current study was to investigate the effect of the glycemic index of post-exercise meals on sleep quality and quantity, and assess whether those changes could affect the next day’s exercise performance. Following a baseline/familiarization phase, 10 recreationally trained male volunteers (23.2 ± 1.8 years) underwent two double-blinded, randomized, counterbalanced crossover trials. In both trials, participants performed sprint interval training (SIT) in the evening. Post-exercise, participants consumed a meal with a high (HGI) or low (LGI) glycemic index. Sleep parameters were assessed by a full night polysomnography (PSG). The following morning, exercise performance was evaluated by the countermovement jump (CMJ) test, a visual reaction time (VRT) test and a 5-km cycling time trial (TT). Total sleep time (TST) and sleep efficiency were greater in the HGI trial compared to the LGI trial (p < 0.05), while sleep onset latency was shortened by four-fold (p < 0.05) and VRT decreased by 8.9% (p < 0.05) in the HGI trial compared to the LGI trial. The performance in both 5-km TT and CMJ did not differ between trials. A moderate to strong correlation was found between the difference in TST and the VRT between the two trials (p < 0.05). In conclusion, this is the first study to show that a high glycemic index meal, following a single spring interval training session, can improve both sleep duration and sleep efficiency, while reducing in parallel sleep onset latency. Those improvements in sleep did not affect jumping ability and aerobic endurance performance. In contrast, the visual reaction time performance increased proportionally to sleep improvements.

Authors: Angelos Vlahoyiannis, George Aphamis, Eleni Andreou, George Samoutis , Giorgos K. Sakkas and Christoforos D. Giannaki 

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Encouraging compassion through teaching and learning: a case study in Cyprus

Encouraging compassion through teaching and learning: a case study in Cyprus


It has been suggested that the biomedical approach towards healthcare professional training may neglect the humanistic nature and personal values of care. As such, discussions with regard to the importance of introducing compassion training into undergraduate programmes and throughout professional practice are of interest. Within this paper, we report on a compassionate care programme designed for, and delivered to, healthcare professionals and managerial/administrative staff at a private hospital in Limassol, Cyprus.

Case description

Six modules were developed, each of a 6 h duration. Each module was delivered twice to two separate groups of participants. Participants included 60 healthcare professionals along with 5 managerial and administrative staff. Using a range of innovative teaching methods and activities, the programme covered a number of issues relevant to compassion including patient centred care, therapeutic relationships, empathy, cultural awareness, conflict resolution, and advanced communication skills. The programme was evaluated using both qualitative and quantitative methods.


Quantitative and qualitative feedback demonstrated high satisfaction and interest in the programme. Likewise, attending managerial and administrative staff considered the programme important for quality improvement and organizational culture change.

Our findings demonstrate that programmes covering the topic of compassion are welcomed by both healthcare professionals and managerial/administrative staff. The impact of compassionate care training will be assessed effectively through a future longitudinal study.

You can read the full publication here: Compassionate Care publication.

Authors: Sue Shea, George Samoutis, Robin Wynyard, Andreas Samoutis, Christos Lionis, Andreas Anastasiou, Alice Araujo, Alexia Papageorgiou and Renos Papadopoulos
Journal of Compassionate Health Care 2016 3:10 © The Author(s). 2016
Received: 15 February 2016 Accepted: 1 October 2016 Published: 22 October 2016

Improving quality care for diabetes in the community: What do Cypriot patients want?

Improving quality care for diabetes in the community: What do Cypriot patients want?



To measure patient preferences for their diabetic care in community setting.


Discrete-choice survey.


Community setting (primary physician and hospital sites) in Cyprus.


Diabetic patients attending community sites.

Main Outcome Measure(s)

Patient preferences, to estimate which components of quality healthcare service people value, their relative importance but also the potential shift to shared decision-making (SDM).


Older respondents with experience of the private sector already received SDM (managing their care and choosing their treatments; detailed and accurate information, continuity of care; compassion for their personal situation) from their primary care physician with waiting time shorter than 1 h. They valued their ‘current’ option and they did not want to change it with other services. Younger people from the public sector valued a change in policy and wanted to move from their ‘current’ to alternative diabetic care services where the waiting times were shorter, they could not only manage their care but also choose their treatments (together with receiving information, continuity of care and compassionate care). Individuals agreed with receiving multidisciplinary care from a team of healthcare providers but they mostly preferred being supported by their primary care physician. The pooled sample valued their ‘current’ option but they also supported policy changes that would implement SDM service for everybody.


Diabetic patients value SDM and are willing to support a shift of practice to receive it not only in the private but also in the public sector. The forthcoming National Health Insurance Service would aim to address such developments as anticipated both in the European Troika’s recommendations and the relevant laws.

International Journal for Quality in Health Care
Published: 24 March 2018
More info can be found here.
Mobile mental health interventions following war and disaster

Mobile mental health interventions following war and disaster

Mobile technologies offer potentially critical ways of delivering mental health support to those experiencing war, ethnic conflict, and human-caused and natural disasters. Research on Internet interventions suggests that effective mobile mental health technologies can be developed, and there are early indications that they will be acceptable to war and disaster survivors, and prove capable of greatly increasing the reach of mental health services. Promising mhealth interventions include video teleconferencing, text messaging, and smartphone-based applications. In addition, a variety of social media platforms has been used during and immediately after disasters to increase agility in responding, and strengthen community and individual resilience. Globally, PTSD Coach has been downloaded over 243,000 times in 96 countries, and together with large-scale use of social media for communication during disasters, suggests the potential for reach of app technology. In addition to enabling improved self-management of post-trauma problems, mobile phone interventions can also enhance delivery of face-to-face care by mental health providers and increase the effectiveness of peer helpers and mutual aid organizations. More research is needed to establish the efficacy of mhealth interventions for those affected by war and disaster. Research should also focus on the identification of active elements and core processes of change, determination of effective ways of increasing adoption and engagement, and explore ways of combining the various capabilities of mobile technologies to maximize their impact.

Authors: Josef I. Ruzek, Eric Kuhn, Beth K. Jaworski, Jason E. Owen, Kelly M. Ramsey

You can access the full article here.

Exercise Intervention

Exercise Intervention

Here you can find references  for the exercise intervention.

An evaluation of low volume high-intensity intermittent training (HIIT) for health risk reduction in overweight and obese men

High Intensity Interval Training Reduces the Levels of Serum Inflammatory Cytokine on Women with Metabolic Syndrome
Determination of inflammatory and prominent proteomic changes in plasma and adipose tissue after high-intensity intermittent training in overweight and obese males
Impact of long-term high-intensity interval and moderate-intensity continuous training on subclinical inflammation in overweight/obese adults
Acute high-intensity interval exercise reduces human monocyte Toll-like receptor 2 expression in type 2 diabetes
Mobile-phone-based home exercise training program decreases systemic inflammation in COPD: a pilot study
Interestingly, the above paper concludes: A mobile-phone-based system can provide an efficient home endurance exercise training program with improved exercise capacity, strength of limb muscles and a decrease in serum CRP and IL-8 in COPD patients. Decreased systemic inflammation may contribute to these clinical benefits. (Clinical trial registration No.: NCT01631019).
Anti-inflammatory effects of the Mediterranean diet: the experience of the PREDIMED study

Anti-inflammatory effects of the Mediterranean diet: the experience of the PREDIMED study

Several epidemiological and clinical studies have evaluated the effects of a Mediterranean diet (Med-Diet) on total cardiovascular mortality, and all concluded that adherence to the traditional Med-Diet is associated with reduced cardiovascular risk. However, the molecular mechanisms involved are not fully understood. Since atherosclerosis is nowadays considered a low-grade inflammatory disease, recent studies have explored the anti-inflammatory effects of a Med-Diet intervention on serum and cellular biomarkers related to atherosclerosis. In a pilot study of the PREvencion con DIeta MEDiterranea (PREDIMED) trial, we analysed the short-term effects of two Med-Diet interventions, one supplemented with virgin olive oil and another with nuts, on vascular risk factors in 772 subjects at high risk for CVD, and in a second study we evaluated the effects of these interventions on cellular and serum inflammatory biomarkers in 106 high-risk subjects. Compared to a low-fat diet, the Med-Diet produced favourable changes in all risk factors. Thus, participants in both Med-Diet groups reduced blood pressure, improved lipid profile and diminished insulin resistance compared to those allocated a low-fat diet. In addition, the Med-Diet supplemented with virgin olive oil or nuts showed an anti-inflammatory effect reducing serum C-reactive protein, IL-6 and endothelial and monocytary adhesion molecules and chemokines, whereas these parameters increased after the low-fat diet intervention. In conclusion, Med-Diets down-regulate cellular and circulating inflammatory biomarkers related to atherogenesis in subjects at high cardiovascular risk. These results support the recommendation of the Med-Diet as a useful tool against CVD.

Estruch R.

You can access the full article from PubMed here.

Mediterranean Diet

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet (MD), characterized by daily consumption of non-processed cereals, extra virgin olive oil, fruit and vegetables, weekly frequent consumption of legumes, dairy products, fish and poultry and limited consumption of red meat and sweets, is promoted worldwide as one of the healthiest dietary patterns due to its consistent benefits on chronic diseases and longevity (Trichopoulou et al, 2014).  A recently published umbrella review of meta-analyses of observational studies and randomized trials including a total population of over than 12 800 000 subjects found that greater adherence to the MD was supported by robust evidence to reduce the risk of overall mortality, cardiovascular diseases, coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction, overall cancer incidence, neurodegenerative diseases, in particular Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, as well as diabetes.   Suggestive or weak evidence was also found supporting the greater effectiveness of the MD in reducing weight, BMI and waist circumference, lowering total cholesterol concentration and increasing HDL-cholesterol concentration, when compared to control diet.  Evidence is suggestive for a protective effect of the MD on for most of the site-specific cancers, as well as for inflammatory and metabolic parameters (Dinu et al, 2017).   As a dietary model with numerous health benefits and no known risks, this model of eating will form the basis of the nutritional platform of the application.


  1. Trichopoulou A, Martínez-González MA, Tong TYN, Forouhi NG, Khandelwal S, Prabhakaran D, Mozaffarian D and de Lorgeril M (2014) Definitions and potential health benefits of the Mediterranean diet: views from experts around the world.   BMC Medicine 12:112.
  2. Dinu M, Pagliai G, Casini A and Sofi F (2017) Mediterranean diet and multiple health outcomes: an umbrella review of meta-analyses of observational studies and randomized trials.  Eur J Clin Nutr advance online publication 10 May 2017, doi:10.10.1038/ejcn.2017.58