Insight article

‘Showing we care’: creating employee empathy through stories

Inspiring a culture of caring 

For any company whose mission involves the provision of personal services, employee-customer connections are essential to success. For one global hotel brand seeking to become best-in-business, evoking employee empathy for those that they were serving was a key strategic priority. At one leadership conference, delegates used the power of storytelling to demonstrate what that priority looked like in practice, and inspire a culture of caring.

Showing staff solidarity

At one branch of this global hotel chain, two regular residents checked in. One: a father, seeking proximity to the local medical centre. The other: his son, checking in for his cancer-combatting chemotherapy treatment.

Speaking with the hotel’s staff the night before his son’s daunting treatment began, the father explained that his son had been feeling anxious about removing his hair. Not only, said the father, did it signal just how close he was to an incredibly challenging, unsettling period – but the prospect of being bald – conspicuously so – was an unhappy one. 

Solemn but stoic, and seeking to show solidarity – as any father would – with his sick son, he had also chosen to shave his head. Though he himself felt no distress, he was conscious that his son wanted to be spared the embarrassment he felt any time that he received a comment on his new appearance, and so asked the Head Waiter to pretend as though his son’s appearance hadn’t changed. 

Empathising entirely with this very reasonable request, the Head Waiter smiled and assured the father that no comment would be passed by any of his staff. With thanks, the father retired to his room. After he’d left and the restaurant staff were expressing their sympathies, one voice asked if they could do anything more. Could they show the same solidarity as the father had done? Could they make it clear that the son really wasn’t alone? Could they show, together, just how much they cared?

The next morning, as the father and his shaved son made their way to the breakfast table, promises were kept. No comment was passed, no telling look found its way onto any face – at least on the part of that hotel’s staff. 

But there were comments – comments of surprise and thanks and heartfelt gratitude, from both father and son. For four of the waiting staff had, overnight, clipped their curls and lost their locks: a gesture that was, though wordless, understood and appreciated more than its recipients could express. 

Becoming best-in-business

When this story was recounted by the hotel branch’s leader at that leadership conference, its emotional impact was understandably immediate: applause, smiles, even a tear or two. But its cultural impact throughout the company was more enduring. The example offered by that branch’s staff was shared across countries and over the years to inspire employees to create a best-in-business culture: a perfect example of personal, empathetic service, and a standard to be followed. 

To discover how storytelling can transform your business, download our: e-book, Storytelling: how to reset an organisation’s narrative to inspire change

Joe Mackay

Marketing & CRM Manager

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