How to build an organisational culture of kindness

On 13 November 2019, people around the globe will celebrate World Kindness Day by promoting good deeds and other acts of kindness. In a recent interview with Oprah, Lady Gaga talked profoundly around kindness. She called it the most powerful thing in the world, particularly in the space of mental illness. “Kindness heals the world. Kindness heals people. It’s what brings us together.” Her message is one for individuals everywhere… and corporates from an organisational culture perspective.

While labour laws and workplace rules protect employees against various forms of discrimination, kindness in the workplace is often seen as a negative. After all, there is truth to the saying “Nice guys finish last”. Yet, a new study on kindness in the world of work contrasts this greatly. The study, published in the journal Emotion, proves that kindness at varying degrees creates a ripple of positivity that affects the entire work environment. And, adds Jostle Blog, acts of kindness can be contagious, building meaningful connections between both recipients and givers.

According to Erin Urban, a career growth strategist, these effects include increased energy levels, positive perspectives, and improved wellbeing and productivity. So, as a leader or HR professional, how can you promote kindness in your company culture without it coming across as superficial? These tips will help.

How can you build an organisational culture of kindness?

1. It starts with you

It can be difficult to show kindness to others when you don’t even show it to yourself. Do things that make you feel happy, even if that’s getting enough sleep or taking a mental health day. When you’re positive and kind to yourself, showing kindness to others – such as leaving a thank-you note or coffee for your co-worker – will come a lot easier, says Channel Kindness.

2. A greeting goes a long way

Human interaction is so important, especially in a work environment where the pressures of deadlines can seem never-ending. Huffpost suggests starting your day with a smile and quick “good morning”, which not only shows your openness but may also be the positivity someone else needs to get stuck into the workload they’ve been worried about. The same goes for leaving the office: Be kind and say “bye” with meaning and a smile.

3. Gratitude is all it takes

Often, a colleague will help us out on a project, and we forget to express our gratitude. The Atlassian recommends offering positive feedback with a handwritten thank-you note or verbal recognition. There are lots of studies that showcase the positive impact of gratitude on wellbeing.

A 2003 study showed participants who kept weekly diaries of things they were grateful for exhibited increased wellbeing. Another 2018 study in Psychological Science found people often underestimate just how much happiness a heartfelt thank-you note can evoke in the recipient. Gratefulness is powerful.

4. Plan activities that promote kindness

Entrench kindness through employee engagement. Organise a gift exchange during the festive season or a celebration giving props to the hard work a colleague has done. Themed events are also a great way to rally people together

The Healthy Workforce Institute suggests having your team add funds to a pot throughout the year, which can then be used to celebrate birthdays in the team. Spontaneous get-togethers out the office but during work hours are a wonderful way to treat a team.

5. Use positive affirmations

Meetings and team huddles are a regular occurrence in any workplace – and a great opportunity to spread kindness. No, you don’t need to buy the team coffee each week but spread the idea of kindness through positive affirmations such as, “No act of kindness, no matter how, small, is ever wasted” (Aesop) or “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” (Plato).

You can also highlight and celebrate your team’s kind acts during these meetups. Another way to do this is to have an anonymous platform where team members can send cheers to their peers who have performed random acts of kindness during the week.

Ultimately, kindness has a lot to do with connection. As a leader, hone your emotional intelligence and work on your self-awareness so you can cultivate compassion in every interaction you have. Often, leadership moments are short and meaningful. It could come down to just asking someone how they are. It could be giving someone a random compliment on the caliber of their recent work.

It could be taking the time to give a younger employee some valuable feedback and advice. It could be remembering to ask after someone’s child who just started school. Never underestimate the impact of making time for your team. 

Kindness starts with being self-aware, which is why the USB-ED management development programmes are designed to provide leaders with an inner perspective and skills that foster a positive organisational culture. For more information on our management development programmes, click here.

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