Anna Eliatamby looks at the evidence behind why kindness is so important to individuals and organisations
According to Collins English Dictionary kindness is “the quality of being gentle, caring, and helpful”. Being kind to self and others is one of the components as is receiving kindness. It serves a purpose in our lives, allowing human connection and cohesion.
It is an intrinsic human quality with significant benefits for our mental health and physical health and the effectiveness of an organisation. Being kind is not expensive, it requires willingness and an open heart. That is part of the power of kindness.
Why does kindness matter at work?
There is an obligation in any organisation to support the health and wellbeing of staff within reasonable bounds. And to provide an organisational culture and structure within which staff can work towards the purpose and function of the organisation.
Meeting these conditions helps staff feel fulfilled so there is productivity, loyalty and a sense of belonging. A very simple intervention to achieve this is to ensure that kindness is part of individuals’ (senior and junior) behaviour and the overall culture.
It will take time, for some, to be comfortable with being kind and receiving kindness. This is especially true in an organisational setting
The benefits of kindness
1. Health and well-being
Being kind has a positive impact on people’s physiology and emotions through the measured release of hormones, including oxytocin, which can lead to improved self-esteem and reduced stress and anxiety. Wellbeing is also enhanced. Those who are generous with their time, for example by volunteering, can find they protect their health and feel happier.
So, enabling kindness in an organisational setting can facilitate employees’ wellbeing and health. This must be more than a single act but a continued expectation throughout all parts of the organisation. However, it should not be forced.
2. Influencing others to be considerate
Helping behaviour is contagious. When a person is kind or observes kindness, their mood improves, and they are more likely to be supportive and compassionate. This then promotes cooperation and collaboration. This is especially true if the act is altruistic with no expectation of a personal gain.
Encouraging kindness in simple and complex ways can lead to better work practices and teamwork. Tasks will be willingly tackled and addressed so that there is collaboration and cooperation which can override any tendency to be competitive. High levels of trust and good boundaries are needed for this to occur.
It will take time, for some, to be comfortable with being kind and receiving kindness. This is especially true in an organisational setting. But we know how to be kind. Almost half (43%) of the 60,000 people who took part in a global project called the Kindness Test (2022) reported that they had either been kind or witnessed it during the previous day.
3. Helping address conflicts
Even in the most helpful and respectful of cultures, there will be conflict. When it occurs in an atmosphere of support and considerateness, then there is a greater chance of a positive solution and issues will not fester and become worse.
Expecting and encouraging honesty and kindness in an organisation will lead to an atmosphere of collective accountability so that people are praised for the positive and they feel they can address, with support, any negatives that occur. They will also feel safe enough to celebrate successes and look at errors that happen so that there is learning.
4. Assisting creativity
Creativity at work occurs most easily when there is a positive culture within which staff feel they can be different, think differently. This culture should be one where people are allowed the space to be themselves with kindness so that they feel included and therefore they are more willing to be creative and show their talents.
5. Reduction in stress levels
Stress has an adverse effect on people’s cognitive skills such as memory, thinking, decision making. It literally takes up space in memory and thinking, leaving the person with less capacity to function. Promoting kindness not only helps creativity, it also decreases stress levels, which then means that people can fully use their cognitive skills and talents.
6. It increases productivity
When people are treated well and can be generous to others, then they will give their best to the organisation. Effectiveness and productivity increase significantly. Leadership needs to model kindness and considerateness in a systematic and sincere way for this to happen. Inconsistencies in demonstrating kindness will erode the overall intention.
7. It is what staff deserve
The smallest unit in an organisation is two people talking. Given this, do we not have an obligation to ensure that they can be kind to each other, that they can work in a culture that promotes respect and considerateness?
As human beings, we find it easier to be kind if all is well in our world of life and work. When we feel safe, loved, trusted and surrounded by like-minded people.
Even though it is more difficult to be kind when life is difficult or if there is toxicity at work (for example), we can still show considerateness and respect to others. And this can then influence others because kindness affects others and increases their tendency to behave similarly.
Isn’t kindness a basic human right? That is its power.
Anna Eliatamby is director of Healthy Leadership, CIC and author of Building an Organisational Mental Health & Wellbeing Strategy (Decency Journey Book 5)