Empathy – The Hardest Soft Skill


By Phil Bruno

The hospitality and meetings industry is currently in what a football or baseball coach would call a “rebuilding season.” We’ve had a rough past few years, but the industry is coming back. More importantly, it’s time to build a better bench of talent.

The Great Resignation continues to hit the meetings industry where it hurts, just as the world is trying to get back to gathering. The hospitality and leisure industry is home to 1.4 million fewer jobs (20% lower) when compared to 2019, according to statistics provided by Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics, who spoke at Destinations International Annual Convention 2022 in Toronto.

Higher “Open Jobs Rate” in Hospitality Industry

The “open jobs rate” in hospitality makes up 9.1% of jobs compared to 3% for the rest of the economy, with a quit rate of 5.5%. That high rate of voluntary attrition means that for every person hired, employers still must fill the leakage from those who are leaving. “Workforce development has emerged as perhaps the greatest challenge facing the visitor economy,” Sacks declared.

There are open jobs 3x that of the rest of the economy and people quitting after they were hired, or not even showing up for their first day. Would you agree with me that it’s time to do something different?

I’ve interviewed past and current workers across the country. The main reason they stay is their healthy work family. People who know them and care about them. These family members are usually co-workers and on the outside chance, some management.

My marketing professor at SLU once told me: “If you want to be successful, place yourself in the path of social change.” – J.J. Kustura ‘79

New Behaviors and Expectations

Between the pandemic, the recovery, inflation worries, and the social climate in general, the behaviors and expectations of travelers have changed. This means that we will need to change with them. Those organizations that manage to retool and retrain quickly will be the ones that prosper.

What does that mean, to “retool and retrain”? In a nutshell, employees and leaders in the hospitality and tourism industry have to change their skillset to better navigate travel and tourism as we find it today.

Empathy: A Common Thread

When I asked workers in the heart of the Midwest what were the new skills needed, I heard “empathy” again and again.

Empathy is simply the outreach, the connection, the acknowledgement, and the honoring of people with whom we are dealing. With empathy, you can recover from a tense situation and turn it into a positive one.

And you don’t need to understand everything someone is going through to be empathetic— you simply need to connect with them in the moment and see things from their point of view.

Showing Empathy in the Workplace

Empathy is critical because emotions have a huge impact on how human beings behave, but it is our thoughts and perceptions that influence our emotions. Have you ever snapped at someone because you were angry at someone else? Or were annoyed by something else that happened that day? How you interacted with that person was due to your emotional state. But you were in that emotional state because of how you perceived your day was going, and what you thought was the cause.

Fair pay. Employees want fair pay for the work that they do, and that recognizes the skills they have developed over the years. They want overtime for extra hours worked. They want vacation time and bonus pay to reward them when a job is well done.

To be treated like human beings. So many employees mentioned that they wanted to be treated (and paid!) like human beings, not cogs in a machine just trying to make its numbers. They want recognition for a job well done, and training so they can advance and make their jobs into a career instead of something temporary. And there were several calls to managers and corporate leadership to “stop micromanaging everything we do.”

Less stress. Simple things like a regular lunch break and personal time off would do wonders for bringing down stress levels.

A chance at a social life. Employees would come back if hours were more flexible, or if there were a more consistent schedule. They want affordable childcare. They want a reasonable amount of time off. And they want managers to respect that time off.

Higher Quality of Service

There is only 100% of energy in any organization. How much of that energy is being spent by workers dealing with not having these needs met? The market will go to the innovator. Innovators will figure this out, maybe not immediately but sooner than later.

Planners will discover who has figured it out by the quality of service their attendees experience and return to those who exceed expectations again and again.

To know thyself is the beginning of all wisdom – Socrates

Before we end this article, cross our arms and nod our heads that all this change should by done by others…

I am challenging you to make a commitment yourself.

I have experience in many industries by partnering with a Missouri-based firm The Insight Institute. Their Insight Inventory is a positive self-assessment tool that asks you to rate your own strengths in two separate environments. At home and then at work.

This very reasonably priced ($20) online digitally scored assessment personality profile comes with a custom report.

Use your newfound knowledge to discover more about how you can interact with others unlike yourself, with more empathy. Maybe even share it with your team and compare.

In Conclusion

The solution is to change the culture, treat people well. People stay because they love their work family. Meeting venues, hoteliers, restaurateurs, attractions, etc., need to treat people like family and operate transparently.

The reality is that this reckoning could require raising prices or reducing profits to staff appropriately. People may have to adapt to fewer room refreshes and not have the same expectations they did in the past.

The needs have changed, but the approach has not, and the solution is not just money, we need empathy and respect.


To learn more about Phil Bruno and Treat ‘Em Right, visit treatemright.com.

For 20+ years, the MEET family of products have provided regional and national resources that have kept corporate, association, medical, education, independent, and religious meeting and event planners informed about relevant vendors, industry news, tech innovations, and resources that impact and influence how and where they plan their group business.

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