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Empathy and Human Resources with Emma Evans

Updated: Apr 22


Episode 22 - The Professional Empathy Podcast.

Empathy and Human Resources with Emma Evans

Listen on Podomatic or on your favourite podcast platform (Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, Google)

Bringing the H back to HR. This episode of The Professional Empathy Podcast explores the relationship between empathy and Human Resources. As HR has evolved from transactional to relational practice, Leanne and Emma explore the ways and means for HR professionals to incorporate empathy into their careers.

Emma is an experienced HR generalist with global business experience specialising in culture change and transformation, human resource strategy, organisational development, employee relations, talent acquisition, remuneration, benefits learning development. She is also an empathetic people leader with proven success in establishing strong relationships built on trust and respect.


What drew Emma to HR:

According to Emma, it wasn't something she has planned. It came as a bit of an evolution from her career. Also, because of her natural interest in people, she was drawn to HR activities that involved interaction with people, helping people, and putting the needs of the people first.

Two main ways people end up in HR:

There are two different avenues people actually fall into HR. Either it's something that you choose as a major in university, or it's something that your career guides you into, and then you start to gravitate that way.

The function of HR has evolved over the years:

HR used to sit in the background quite a bit. So there wasn't a lot of knowledge about what HR actually does. But nowadays, it's becoming much more to the forefront of the business and much more active, where people can see the reasons or the benefits of actually having a really strong HR function within the organisation. So it's much more transparent than what it actually used to be.

The core role of HR has shifted from a transactional type of role to a strategic position:

There are different parts of HR. Historically, it used to be very transactional in the background. So it was very compliance orientated to the carrot and stick kind of strategy. There's quite a significant shift now, where their compliance piece is certainly important.

The shift now is moving away from a transactional role to an influential voice within the business. It provides a new opportunity for HR now to be involved in areas within the business that previously it hadn't.

The stresses of being HR:

In HR, you work with people at their happiest times, as well as their hardest times. When you're giving promotions or training up people, you get a high from that. But then, on the flip side of that, when there are challenges within the business, you have to manage people through those challenges.

For example, it's very hard if you have to do layoffs. It's emotionally taxing because you build relationships with people. They trust you. You have a connection, and it's very difficult to have those conversations because you feel for the people.

Role of empathetic leadership:

Empathetic leadership is extremely important nowadays because, from a leadership perspective, empathy opens the doors to speak, allowing you to show vulnerability as a leader, which is important at the right time.

It, therefore, allows transparency. It allows you to be genuine in your leadership style. It also allows you to connect with people individually, which is essential. So being able to be empathetic towards other people enable that person to see a side of you as a leader, which is very humanised.

What is proactive HR all about?

Proactive HR is about getting away from your desk, going down to that shop floor and having a conversation with the guys, or asking them how their day is going and observing interactions between people within the business to see one of the track interactions. So it's getting into the business at that ground level and observing what's actually happening.

The advantage of having HR on that leadership strategy team:

If you think about the dynamics of who's sitting at the table, you've got a finance team that directly manages the profit and loss. You've got operations team that drive its performance, but who is actually representing the organisation's people? And who has a say in what employees want? What are they looking for? What motivates them? What makes them engage? So, HR has a crucial role in being that voice and having that influence in the leadership space.

Emma's advice to the public, other HR professionals and leaders about empathy in HR:

You must look after yourself. Show that you have someone you can confide in, and don't isolate yourself. Don't put so much pressure on yourself to be as perfect as you possibly can in HR. Self-care is really important. Understand your limits. Don't be afraid to ask for help from other people in HR, bulging network, or just support staff as well.


"From a leadership perspective, empathy opens the doors to speak, where it allows you to show vulnerability as a leader. Because it allows transparency, it also allows you to be genuine in your leadership style. It also allows you to connect with people on an individual level."

"If you're able to be a genuine leader, and be able to show empathy and transparency, it breaks down the barriers, so that people are much more open, they are much more engaged, and therefore productivity and performance improves."

 "If you've got happy, engaged people, then you've got performance."


● 00:00 - 0:57 - Introduction.

● 00:00 - 2:00 - Introducing our guest, Emma Evans, and outlining today's topic, empathy within HR.

● 2:00 - 3:00 - Leanne's previous experiences with people in HR.

● 3:00 - 6:20 - Why did Emma choose to go into HR?

● 6:30 - 8:20 - What is the core role of HR?

● 8:30 - 11:22 - Where the evolution of the people and culture in HR has come from.

● 11:30 - 13:30 - Emma's favourite and least favourite parts of her job in HR.

● 13:35 - 16:30 - Do people recognise the difficulties within HR, and do they get any support?

● 16:40 - 18:00 - Empathetic leadership within HR.

● 18:00 - 19:30 - Leanne's definition of empathy in a business context.

● 20:30 - 21:20 - What is active listening?

● 21:30 - 23:00 - What is the value of empathetic leadership, opposed to just having robots doing their jobs?

● 23:00 - 24:00 - Are there challenges in HR when it comes to building empathy and vulnerability?

● 24:00 - 25:00 - Where should somebody start when trying to shift into empathetic leadership?

● 25:00 - 28:30 - If you're uncomfortable with vulnerability, you can't expect other people to be vulnerable with you.

● 28:30 - 29:15 - If you make someone feel dismissed, they're not going to want to talk to you again!

● 31:00 - 35:00 - There are two parts to dealing with someone coming to you to be vulnerable and how to respond to them.

● 35:00 - 37:30 - There has been a long standing opinion in business that profit always comes before people. Is that changing?

● 37:30 - 41:00 - People will do better at work when they are happy and engaged.

● 41:00 - 45:30 - What does Emma want the public, other HR professionals and leadership to know about empathy in HR?

● 45:30 - END - Wrap-up & Outros


Hi! I'm Leanne Butterworth, Empathy Speaker and Educator, University Lecturer and Mental Health Advocate.

Empathy First is a Brisbane-based social enterprise offering Empathy workshops, online courses and individual Empathy coaching to help you build connection and strengthen your relationships for personal and professional success.

Contact me today and let's talk about how you can put Empathy First.

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