"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible." The Dalai Lama.
“You’re fired.” Lord Sugar.
Programmes like The Apprentice would have us believe that the modern corporate world is filled with bitching and backstabbing, as voraciously ambitious workers trample over each other in the race to finish top of the pile. Workplaces are, often, bastions of tooth-and-claw, fight-to-the-death competition where nobody is your friend and everyone is out to get you. And where 14-hour-days are the norm and lunch is for wimps – right?
Of course, in reality, the modern workplace is far from the gladiatorial combat Lord Sugar oversees. In most cases, the office is a sociable, kindly environment where people look out for each other, and friendships are made over cups of coffee and discussions about Love Island at the watercooler. I’m not convinced that the Dalai Lama is a huge Love Island fan (probably more Strictly), but I’m fairly sure his ethos is more in line with this approach than that encouraged by Lord Sugar.
Which is just as well. Because offices where kindness is to the fore aren’t just nicer places to work – they’re more productive, too.
The benefits of kindness
A Canadian report from the Association of Professional Executives (APEX) discovered that respectful and civil work teams possess 26% more energy, are 36% more satisfied with their jobs, and 44% more committed to their organisation. Meanwhile, a joint research paper featured in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that employees who receive regular gratitude were more likely to deploy discretionary effort, welcome new employees, and fill in for co-workers.
And, unsurprisingly a kind workplace is good for mental health, meaning less time lost to sick leave. 63% of UK adults agree that when other people are kind it has a positive impact on their mental health, and the same proportion agree that being kind to others also has a positive impact on their mental health. Engaging in acts of kindness results in the production of serotonin and endorphins – the so-called ‘helper’s high’ or ‘warm glow’.
But it’s not just mental health that benefits from kindness. There are tangible physical benefits, too. Witnessing acts of kindness produces oxytocin, which aids in lowering blood pressure and improving our overall heart-health. Oxytocin also increases our self-esteem and optimism.
According to sociologist Christine Carter Ph.D, the effects of kindness are profoundly significant: “People who volunteer tend to experience fewer aches and pains. Giving help to others protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organisations have an impressive 44% lower likelihood of dying early, and that’s after sifting out every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status and many more. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church.”
So kindness is, literally, good for you. And what’s good for the physical and mental health of employees, and for overall workplace morale, is also good for the bottom line.
That’s all well and good. But how does an employer go about instilling an ethos of kindness in the workplace? In the course of researching this article, I encountered one suggestion that involved putting up inspirational sayings around the office. Speaking personally, I can’t think of anything more demotivating than walking into an office with “Live, love, laugh” crudely stencilled onto a wall.
But there are steps that can genuinely make a difference to the whole atmosphere of an office. And the first is to lead by example. A Stanford study on the psychology of kindness found that emotions can be highly contagious in the workplace, with employees being “particularly likely” to catch the emotions displayed by leadership.
Those in senior positions set the tone in an organisation. Kindness and thoughtfulness includes making sure there are reasonable working hours, ensuring everyone feels involved in meetings and social occasions and, crucially, recognising and rewarding good work. More than 80% of employees agree that recognition improves their experience, relationships, engagement and happiness at work. Oh, and a note to my ex-boss if they’re reading: being kind also means not being an **** even when you’re under pressure.
Small gestures; big difference
But it is also much simpler than that. Kindness can be as simple as smiling at people, being approachable, and making time for small talk. It is these simple, basic but fundamental social exchanges that are the currency of a happy workplace. A workforce that is encouraged to chat, and that sees kindness and sociability from senior staff, is going to be the kind of place where people feel comfortable, engaged, loyal, and willing to exchange ideas and go the extra mile for one another.
Another feature of a kind workplace is one that takes time to recognise the significant milestones of its employees: getting married, being promoted, or having a baby, for example. Surprising your employee or colleague with a thoughtful gift will remind them why they love working where they do. Similarly, offering support and compassion at a trying time in an employee’s life, whether through illness, bereavement, poor mental health, or any number of different external stressors, is another way of engendering kindness and making workers feel appreciated.
Kindness in the community
But the opportunity for kindness doesn’t end there. An employer that seriously wants to promote workplace kindness can take steps to really make it part of the organisation’s DNA by contributing to their community.
Plenty of workplaces now encourage employees to take time off work to raise funds, or volunteer, for a local charity or worthy cause. Such activity gives employees that ‘helper’s high’, builds morale and boosts camaraderie. Affiliative behaviour is any behaviour that builds your relationships with others. According to one study, “affiliative behaviour may be an important component of coping with stress and indicate that engaging in prosocial behaviour (action intended to help others) might be an effective strategy for reducing the impact of stress on emotional functioning.”
The Be Kind Challenge
Workplace wellbeing provider BuddyBoost has a bespoke programme in place to help promote workplace kindness: The BuddyBoost Be Kind Challenge. The Be Kind Challenge is about remembering that being kind makes us feel good and can start a chain reaction which can make life a little better for everyone.
The Be Kind Challenge involves asking employees from a participating organisation to perform an act of kindness every day for 26 days. The act of kindness could be anything small or large, from checking in with someone vulnerable to donating to a food bank, giving up your seat on the bus to volunteering for a community organisation.
The participants all record their activities on the BuddyBoost app’s community feed, where they can communicate with others undertaking the challenge, posting photos and messages, encouraging and inspiring one another, as well as recording how much their mood has been boosted by their good deeds. The result is a haven of positivity and mutual support, and improved camaraderie and a real sense of community.
The ripple effect
The great thing about workplace kindness is that, after a while, it becomes self-perpetuating. Giving of ourselves – our time, our money, or even simply our listening ear – makes us happier, which, in turn, makes us more likely to give of ourselves again. This is known as the ripple effect.
Multiple studies have shown that when one person performs a kind act, the recipient is more likely to perform a kind act of his or her own for someone else. One study shows how one act of kindness has a cascading effect, as the recipient does a kind act for someone in his or her social network, then that recipient does another kind act, then so on and so on. At last, the kind of contagion we can get on board with.
Image from Freepik.