How to create a culture of kindness in the workplace

Happy group at work, kindness in the workplace

Kindness is “the quality of being generous, helpful, and caring about other people, or an act showing this quality” (Cambridge Dictionary). We know what it is and how to be kind.

Kindness brings many benefits, better health and well-being, improved performance at work, greater collaboration, productivity, and creativity. For kindness to be present and used within a workplace, we need a leader with wisdom and who is prepared to enable a culture of considerateness, decency, and respect. High levels of trust and safety are required for this to occur.

Wisdom is necessary for kindness to be enacted in yourself and others. The first step is to understand yourself as a leader who can be kind and is wise.

Your leadership characteristics 

A wise leader has pro-social behaviours and attitudes (empathy, compassion), manages their emotions, self-reflects and self-cares, copes with uncertainty and conflict, is decisive and knows how to collaborate and support. They can also possess the more traditional leadership qualities of decisiveness and assertiveness.

Take a moment to understand yourself as a leader. Which characteristics do you have and use to facilitate kindness to yourself and to others? How wise are you? Which qualities facilitate kindness and decency, and which ones hinder them?

Consider how you should change your character so you can build on the kindness that is present in the culture. Ensure that you take steps to look after yourself with kindness. This is not self-indulgence but needed. All this is vital, as your leadership and character will be what shapes the culture.

Building the culture of kindness

Having clarified your character and associated behaviours, it is time to use them as a guide to build a culture of considerateness and decency. First with colleagues, both senior and junior, think about the vision for kindness, and the associated behaviours that you all want more of. Ask them to reflect on their own approach to kindness and wisdom. They can do this privately or, if there is sufficient trust, in a group discussion.

Think about what has facilitated change in the organisation. This normally includes involving and engaging staff from the beginning. Work with them to identify what will help and what will hinder, e.g., having regular updates. Know that some will embrace the proposed change, some will take time and others will be reluctant and perhaps obstructive. Think about how people can have time to reflect and change; Understand someone’s reluctance and support them.

It is so vital to build on what already exists in terms of kindness, otherwise there is a risk that people will feel that what they are doing already has been ignored and may then sabotage any new initiative. Describe the key aspects of kindness and wisdom and examine the extent to which they are already present.  These can include respect, working with integrity, being considerate of others, allowing space for well-being, trust, safety, enabling diversity, equity and inclusion, flexible work practices that promote collaboration and cooperation and flexible working hours and locations.

Consider which behaviours need to be introduced for greater kindness and by whom. (Which of your kindness behaviours could be used as a starting point?) Identify ways in which people can incorporate these behaviours into their mindsets and daily practice. What reminders are needed to ensure people change? For example, have regular discussions about how being kind is making a difference. Build trust and cooperation and safety. Provide opportunities to rehearse the new behaviours.

Ensure that people make real and significant efforts to identify negative mindsets and actions. Understand why these occur and decrease their occurrence. For example, encourage people to identify negativity, errors and talk about how these can be handled positively, e.g., by sharing occasions when you made an error. Sometimes there is a reason for negativity and the solution can be simple. Managers had given Jolya a lot of responsibility, with little support. She was very efficient but became more and more terse because she received no feedback on her performance and her workload was high. Staff became very wary of her. Her new manager took time to understand her. She then praised Jolya regularly, demonstrated that she cared for Jolya’s well-being, e.g., ensuring that she could have lunch breaks. These simple interventions made the biggest difference, and Jolya became more relaxed and supportive herself.

Help people learn about the value of becoming wiser in all they say and do. Provide opportunities for them to learn about the elements of wisdom and how they can enhance what they already possess, e.g., self-care, compassion. Perhaps look at how the organisation promotes and supports mental health and well-being.

Making these changes with people will lead to them lasting beyond your moment in the organisation. Understand that people will need space and time to consider, ponder, pause and reflect on what being kinder means in their work life. Let them guide the life of the culture with you as a role model and support.

This inclusive approach ensures that kindness grows and remains the lifeblood of the organisation.

Anna EliatambyAbout the author

Anna Eliatamby, Director, Healthy Leadership CIC. Author of Healthy Leadership-Decency Journey, Book One. Healthy Organisations-Decency Journey Book Two.

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