Today’s workforce wants more from leadership. American employees, especially millennials and their younger counterparts in Gen Z, both of which make up the working population under 40, are no longer accepting of the status quo in corporate America. This rapid transformation in the business climate is galvanizing new efforts for workplace and leadership reform.

And because we’re currently in a candidates’ job market, only the companies willing to make positive changes are going to be able to successfully compete for the best and the brightest. If you’re a business leader and you haven’t already made bold changes to your leadership style and approach, now is the time to take action.

Here are my best tips for one part of the puzzle – the creation of a kind and empathetic work culture. Something that has become more relevant than ever as workers seek out opportunities to support businesses providing a positive environment both socially and culturally – and as increasing disconnectedness through remote work becomes an ever-present reality. 

Steps to creating a kind and empathetic work culture: 

Hold leaders and managers accountable to a high EQ standard.

For most of our business leaders – especially those at the executive level – emotional intelligence (EQ) is either an afterthought, or a completely foreign concept. 

Too many of our nation’s most prominent and influential leaders lack the fundamental ability to tune into the emotions of others. And that’s a serious problem for companies looking to compete in a candidates’ job market. Top talent – especially the talent from our younger generations – want, need and expect to be steered by leaders who have an emotional stake in the game and an empathetic approach to workplace culture. According to a poll from PGI, more than 70% of millennials want the people they work with to feel more like a second family than simply coworkers. 

My take? EQ should be a required skill for all those who lead direct-reports or teams, and the development and maintenance of this skill should be supported by regular trainings in the same way we train for customer relations, operational efficiency, safety or profitability. We’ve evolved past the days when executives thought only about shareholders and customers – employees’ emotions and opinions matter, and they can make or break the bottom line. 

Lead all communications with empathy and appreciation. 

Far too many all-employee emails and other forms of internal communication start off with bland corporate-speak about the latest corporate “initiatives,” or worse yet – authoritative commands about what to do and what not to do. It should come as no surprise that this kind of content doesn’t exactly “hook” employee audiences and excite them to read more. These messages are more likely to make them roll their eyes and hit the delete button.

So if the old way doesn’t work anymore, then what does? Here’s a novel concept – send the kinds of emails that employees actually want to receive. Emails and communications that begin with messages of understanding, empathy, recognition, gratitude and appreciation are much more likely to be read in full, digested and even acted upon. We don’t need data to demonstrate this fact – it’s common sense. Humans ultimately want to feel heard, seen and valued. Leading all your corporate messages with relatable and human sentiment (no matter what other topics you have to address farther into the communication) is a simple way to begin to shift your day-to-day culture in a more positive direction. 

Solicit opinions and ideas from employees – then act on them. 

Just as important as building on the EQ of your executive bench and communicating with empathy is to ensure you’re authentically and routinely soliciting employee feedback. And I don’t just mean hitting send on the annual employee survey. 

Companies with truly thriving cultures are collaborating and conversing with their employees on a regular basis – brainstorming, gathering their ideas and comments, working together to improve and listening to everything employees have to say, even when the message is hard to hear. 

Qualitative feedback, open collaboration and accountability are absolutely pivotal to building trust, respect, credibility and reputation internally. And I’d argue that internal trust and reputation are always prerequisites for a kind and empathetic culture. You simply can’t have one without the other.  Here’s the bottom line – I don’t think I’m overstating the situation when I say that tomorrow belongs to those who lead with kindness, gratitude and empathy. In our rapidly shifting business landscape, I fully expect that those leaders – and only those leaders – will have a chance at courting and keeping both employees and customers.