When your top performers make important decisions on the job, are they most likely thinking rationally or emotionally? The answer may surprise you.

In truth, while most people estimate that 20% or less of their work decisions are made on an emotional basis, emotions are behind every decision we make. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing: humans are emotional creatures by nature, and a firm understanding of how to monitor and use emotions—called emotional intelligence or EQ—can have a major positive effect in the workplace. Some studies suggest that 67% of all abilities associated with strong job performance are also tied to a high EQ.

One of the major components of emotional intelligence is empathy, the ability to identify, understand, and relate to emotions that other people are expressing. While some people are naturally more empathetic than others, empathy (and emotional intelligence in general) is comprised of skills that can be learned and developed through practice.

How do employee engagement and empathy intersect?

Employee engagement is different than happiness or satisfaction on the job. An engaged employee is emotionally invested in the business itself, which drives better performance and a willingness to go above and beyond the baseline of what’s expected. Obviously, these workers are incredibly valuable to their employers, and seeking opportunities to increase employee engagement should reflect that value.

Empathy is a critical piece to creating a workplace environment that promotes employee engagement. Here are three examples of the role it can play:

1. Empathy drives the creation of a vision that resonates with everyone on the team

The ideal team vision should inspire passion in the work that each member puts forth. Developing a vision through empathy takes into account the beliefs and feelings of everyone involved, allowing your entire workforce to become invested in how they can contribute to success.

2. Empathy helps build a work environment based on collaboration and trust

Modern workplaces are composed of people from many different backgrounds. Successful collaboration requires that all of these workers trust their employer and feel like they are being listened to. When the entire team is treated with empathy and their emotions are acknowledged, everyone involved feels like they are being heard.

3. Leaders who understand and display empathy are better mentors and inspire better results

Emotional intelligence is one of the most important key attributes that outstanding leaders possess. It’s the ability to use empathy to understand what motivates a team and use that motivation to generate meaningful connections that sets outstanding leaders apart from the rest.

How can empathy be promoted in the workplace?

It’s clear that empathy’s impact on employee engagement shouldn’t be ignored. With every study conducted on the subject, more and more evidence exists to highlight its benefits. So how can it be incorporated into L&D or employee onboarding in a meaningful way? There are a few different techniques you can consider:

Through fostering empathy and emotional intelligence, you can help your employees develop valuable skills and create a workplace environment where it’s easy for your team to become engaged in what they do.  Empathy can be a difficult skill to teach, but it pays off in the long run.

How is empathy leveraged in your business? How can a greater understanding of emotional intelligence benefit your workers and your company at large? Acknowledging the heavy role emotions play in the workplace is the first step to a realm of possibilities.