Kindness and its role in mental health in the workplace

A look at kindness; the differences between it, altruism and compassion, how it can benefit mental health in the workplace, and some tips for developing a kindness culture at work.

Going back to the roots

How often have you heard someone describe those they work with as ‘like a family’?  When you think about it, this isn’t such a strange description.  The first part of the word kindness, and from where the word originated, ‘kin’ can either relate to a person’s relatives or a group with similar characteristics.  And being 'of a kind' or 'in kinship' with others, suggests a motivation to work together and be caring and thoughtful.  So, kindness can evoke feelings of cooperation and companionship to achieve a shared aim with positive results and benefits for both the organisation and individuals involved.


“When we seek to discover the best in others,

we somehow bring out the best in ourselves.”

William Arthur Ward


Are kindness, altruism and compassion interchangeable?

In a word, no … although they all include traits which are related, they each have their own distinguishing characteristics as the following brief definitions highlight:
Altruism – concern for another’s welfare without taking into account thoughts of yourself.
Compassion – distress or pity for another’s suffering or bad luck, often wanting to help ease their troubles.
Kindness – the practice of being kind and performing a considerate, thoughtful, or caring action.

So, many acts of kindness will be illustrations of altruism and may come from feelings of compassion when we see someone going through a difficult time.


Kindness can be a catalyst

When kindness is shown to someone at work, research has found that it is then paid back and often not only to the person who bestowed the act of kindness.  Perhaps one of the reasons why a kinder workplace culture often leads to lower turnover rates and higher productivity and efficiency.  In addition, individuals who choose to practice kindness, to themselves and others, often find it supports and protects their own wellbeing and mental health in the workplace.


Benefits of a kinder workplace culture to mental health in the workplace

Improves self-worth: being recognised, a simple ‘well done’ for a completed task, or having a compliment paid can boost self-esteem, provide feelings of fulfilment, and generate positive emotions.
Increases job satisfaction: it is well documented that giving improves our own wellbeing by bringing happiness and meaning to our life.  By practising kindness with our colleagues, we can feel we are making a difference at work which, in turn, can lead to an increase in our own job satisfaction.
Enhances positive relationships: people are often surprised at the happiness they feel when they give a compliment, even over receiving one.  Giving an honest compliment requires us to really focus on another person - their behaviour, feelings, thoughts, and personality.  This process can lead to feeling more connected to that person, enhancing our social connection which is a vital element of our own wellbeing and happiness.


Tips for bringing kindness into the workplace, even if it is virtual

Lead by example – if team members receive praise regularly from their line manager, they are more likely to follow that lead and be more complimentary of their subordinates and colleagues, leading to a kinder team spirit overall.
Change the subject – if a conversation is becoming negative on a personal level, try to add something positive or change the subject.
Think about language – aim to be kind with the words you use and the way you deliver them as you do not know what is going on in the recipient’s life and what they may be dealing with.
Show interest – try to include a daily interaction with a colleague during which you talk about something other than work.  Perhaps reciprocally share something with each other that people do not already know (always remembering that kindness involves the perception of others and what we intend or perceive as an act of kindness may not be seen as such by the recipient).
Help create inclusion – seek the opinions of those team members who haven’t contributed to a piece of decision making.   Ask someone you don’t agree with questions and then listen to their answers with an open mind, perhaps prompting you to utter that well underused phrase “I hadn’t thought about it like that”!

You can find many other ideas on the The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation’s 2021 workplace kindness calendar which features a theme for each month to help generate a kinder workplace culture.


Helpful courses and resources on mental health in the workplace:

Mental health awareness training courses

Managing our mental health while working from home - a 3.5hr  live, interactive training course

Mental health awareness resources

Wellbeing at work resources

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