‘Be Kind’ is a statement we see everywhere from t-shirts to common values statements in companies. It can seem disingenuous and almost meaningless when this statement has become this ubiquitous. But what does it truly mean to use compassion in the workplace?

To look closer at what ‘kindness’ is at work is a complex question, that will bring out different answers to many of us, depending on our perspective and context. We will all have different opinions based on our own beliefs and values. But perhaps what we can agree on is that the most fundamental way to demonstrate kindness is being respectful and compassionate to others, regardless of their status or performance. It maybe ought to be the most basic thing we expect at work – some kindness and respect.

The statement ‘Be Kind’ can feel slightly annoying and suggests we need to put on a false but polite act of kindness. But being kind at work should not mean us having to be dishonest or insincere or be our inauthentic selves. Studies show that being kind can create a positive ripple effect in your workplace, as people tend to reciprocate and pay forward kindness to others. Being (authentically) kind at work is not disingenuous, but rather it could be seen as a valuable skill that can enhance workplaces and employee experiences by enabling better relationships.

Kindness is the new leadership

“You can be anxious, sensitive, kind, and wear your heart on your sleeve, you can be a mother or not, you can be an ex-Mormon or not, you can be a nerd, a crier, a hugger – you can be all of these things. And not only can you be here; you can lead. Just like me.” 

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand Ex Prime Minister

When Jacinda Ardern gave her resignation speech she talked of kindness as a leadership attribute. Something we probably wouldn’t have seen in previous speeches. She suggested that being kind may not always be easy or appreciated, especially in a competitive or stressful environment. It may require courage, vulnerability, and resilience to overcome challenges and barriers, but it is a quality that should be developed and nurtured. Ardern and her leadership style shows that perhaps being kind does not mean being weak or passive. It means being respectful, compassionate, and generous with your words and actions.

Utilising compassion in the workplace can also benefit our own mental health too, as it can boost our mood, self-esteem, and it can (with balance) impact our reputation positively. How we can start a kindness practice at work is to remind ourselves of the benefits of kindness for both us and others, such as improving well-being, productivity, connection, and meaning.

However, if you wanted to do more acts of kindness at work, here are a couple of ideas:

  • As clichéd as this sounds – try to be kind to yourself first. If you are feeling stressed, tired, or overwhelmed, take a break, do some exercise, or practice some self-care. It’s really only when we can feel more positive about ourselves and our situation, we can more easily extend kindness to others. Being kind to yourself can help you feel more positive and generous towards others.
  • Start with small and simple acts of kindness that don’t require much effort or time, such as sending a thank-you email, giving a compliment on a piece of work, or offering to help someone with a project or data piece.
  • Remember that kindness is a skill that can be learnt and improved with practice. The more you practice kindness at work, the more natural and rewarding it will become.

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Blog by Dr Naeema Pasha

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