Blog — Mental Health and Wellbeing

The Importance of Kindness and Why Leaders Should Value It

Dr Rona Mackenzie
Dr Rona Mackenzie
Senior Consultant
The Importance of Kindness and Why Leaders Should Value It

The way we work today is very different from before COVID-19. Relationships are less personal, contact less frequent, and a lot more people work independently for at least part of the working week. This can lead to disassociation and even paranoia: we know mental health and wellbeing is now one of the biggest concerns in the workplace. Even those who are back in the office with regular contact now find themselves too busy to reap the benefits of relationships. So what role can kindness play in helping with these issues? Dr Rona Mackenzie, Senior Consultant at IDG, believes it can play a hugely role, if we just get past our preconceptions, and has some ideas for how we can best use it…

The Kindness Test

The pandemic brought the topic of kindness to our attention, as we observed or experienced inspiring examples of kindness in action within communities and workplaces. For the purposes of this piece, ‘Kindness’ can be defined as ‘the quality of being generous, helpful and caring toward others without seeking praise or reward.’

Research into Kindness is rapidly expanding. Neuroscientists, psychologists and scientists are examining the impact of kindness on the brain, our behaviours and the application of their findings into different aspects of life.

In the summer of 2021, the University of Sussex launched a research programme called The Kindness Test. Their academics partnered with BBC Radio 4 to create a huge public science project aimed at increasing our understanding of the role that kindness plays in our lives. Over 60,000 people aged 18-99 from 144 different countries took part.

Whilst many people who completed the questionnaire felt that levels of kindness had either remained the same or declined during their lifetime, two thirds thought that the pandemic had made people kinder. Kind acts were very common, with three-quarters of people saying they had received kindness from close friends or family quite often or nearly all the time.

People saw kind acts taking place in the home, medical settings, communities, the workplace, green spaces and shops. The places least likely were the internet, public transport and on the street. Income showed no correlation with being kind. Being kind was shown to be good for your wellbeing!

One of the most signifcant findings from a business point of view was that 73% of respondents agreed that kindness in the workplace is highly valued, and those who said they receive, give, or notice more acts of kindness reported higher levels of well-being. This might be a very significant realisation, in a time when wellbeing and even mental health are so threatened. Could we prevent many difficulties simply by being kinder to ourselves and others? The research suggests that we can.

What are the benefits of Kindness?

I was particularly struck by the finding that people who talk to strangers see and receive more kindness. I typically see the typical British ‘head nod’ greeting in the street, with the gaze being swiftly averted as the stranger walks past. I now have a dog and she definitely helps to break the ice, as all eyes focus on her cute face and not on the social awkwardness of encountering someone new! But when I met my Canadian partner a few years ago, I was struck by how engaging and chatty he is with perfect strangers.

After a couple of weeks living together, he knew all about Steve from two doors down and his roof repair, how Sally from the yellow door house with the King Charles Spaniel has a new job and which new car Simon just bought. Steve, Sally and Simon were people I didn’t know, yet I’ve been their neighbour for three years.

The acts of kindness I’ve seen emerge from these relationships include dog sitting, fence building, beer drinking, flat tyre repairing and many cuddles with cute dogs. Our relationships and kindness have enriched our lives considerably – all because he chooses to say hello to literally anyone and everyone we meet. Perhaps this indicates that kindness is a likely result of engaging with others and forming relationships? Is kindness affected by our extraversion or introversion?

The research found the most common barriers were these:

  • Concerns about kindness being misinterpreted by the recipient
  • Not having enough time to be kind to others
  • The impact of social media
  • Lack of opportunity, and
  • Kindness being seen as a weakness.
How does this affect the workplace?

If we think about kindness in the workplace, our first barrier is our definition of, and comfort with, being kind. For some, the simple word ‘kind’ is fluffy, vague, cloudy and makes them feel uncomfortable.

The ’busyness’ of modern life may prevent us from engaging in all number of things. We’re often in a hurry, living our lives to the maximum, packing too much into our schedules. We might put our needs before those of others, and perceive that we don’t have time to be kind to someone else. Is busyness an excuse for being selfish?

Technology has replaced much of the human interaction we used to enjoy. How often do you pick up the phone and talk to someone, or even physically go and see them? Do you rely on emails and text messages? Our workplaces have often become more transactional and target driven, where relationships are focused on what you can do to help me achieve my goals, rather than us getting to know one another in a genuine way so that we can develop our professional relationship and work positively and effectively together.

The connectedness we used to have with people we work with has diminished. When some people worked from home, they felt they were more efficient and productive – and when they returned to the office, they struggled to find time to chat to colleagues. Despite valuing being with people, at the same time they felt that time was being wasted and they were less productive. This may be driven by the perceived expectations of employers and a ‘boss’. What might we be sacrificing by being this ‘busy’?

Technology is often a drain on our time as we get lost down the rabbit holes of social media. We can easily lose time to mindless scrolling, in search of a dopamine hit from cute puppies, funny antics and observing others’ adventures and experiences. Sadly, this means we spend less time being with people, enjoying their company and the moment, or doing kind acts.

For some, kind acts are avoided in case they are misinterpreted. Or because the giver might be taken advantage of. By showing kindness, we might be too flexible, too accommodating, or take on too much, to our own detriment.

So, what might we do differently?
  • Pick your own term or version of kindness. It is helpfulness? Consideration? Thoughtfulness? Select the term that works for you, reflect on why you have chosen it, and how you define it.
  • Be kind to yourself first. If you can’t be kind to yourself, you won’t have the capacity to show kindness to others. Create your kindness boundaries so that you feel more comfortable that you won’t be taken advantage of.
  • Deepen professional relationships. Spend time really getting to know others in a personal capacity. Explore what kindness means to them so that you lessen the chance that your kindness might be misunderstood.
  • Do something different. And at the same time, be aware that if it isn’t authentic and consistent, people are going to wonder what you’re up to and if it’s genuine.
  • Catch yourself being kind. What happened? What was the impact? How did it feel?
  • Live in the moment. Notice kind acts. They are infectious, kindness spreads. What’s not to like about that?

At IDG we believe that human performance is developed through a focus on wellbeing, capability and behaviours. Wellbeing underpins all our development – we must feel physically and mentally well in order to show up authentically, with energy and curiosity, to learn about and develop ourselves.

Kind acts form an important part of our wellness, developing relationships, evoking positivity, enhancing trust, and enabling people to feel seen, heard and valued. So, take time today to consider – how kind are you? How kind are others to you? And what might you do to show kindness to someone today?

Image by R. Boed.

 

Learn more about how kindness is important in business by listening to episode 1 of our podcast Leadership Learned, below:

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