This Sunday, 13th November, is World Kindness Day. This is one of my favourite Days (with a capital D) of the year. So many of the awareness days are important and do great things for visibility and awareness, but this one covers and encapsulates so much.
On the flip side, you could argue that every day should be a Kindness Day. Certainly, the world needs more kindness right now. With stress and tensions running high and opinions polarised by world events and our news and (social) media channels, it’s hard to escape from the unkind, the (in)fighting, the political point-scoring, and the extreme views of the vocal minorities.
This is why a culture of kindness at work is so important. Perhaps more than ever. And research shows that kindness can be taught and learned as well as shared and paid forward.
And now for the science part… Acts of kindness create feelings of emotional warmth, which in turn release the hormone oxytocin into our systems. In the brain, oxytocin acts as a chemical messenger and has an important role in many human behaviours including recognition, trust, and bonding. (It also plays an important part in romantic attachment and sexual arousal, but we don’t need to focus on these here!) As a result, oxytocin is sometimes called the 'love hormone'. Who doesn’t want recognition, trust and well-bonded teams in their workplace?
It gets even better. Oxytocin also causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide, which dilates the blood vessels, reducing blood pressure. That’s right – being kind reduces blood pressure and, therefore, is good for the heart!
Professionally, pretty much every meaningful metric can be enhanced with kindness. Engagement, commitment, retention, wellbeing, productivity, efficiency, belonging, psychological safety and loyalty all benefit greatly from a culture of kindness.
With all of this in mind, here are a few ways to encourage and communicate kindness in your organisation.
1. Facilitate peer-to-peer recognition
I guess this is the most obvious one. From a message board to branded thank you cards to a fully blown recognition platform, the advantages of these are clear to see. The latter can reap particularly great dividends in the oxytocin stakes! Such a platform engages your entire workforce in a fun, social experience, and encourages a greater sense of belonging across your teams. It also gives more opportunity to appreciate your people for their efforts and achievements that don’t necessarily translate into a traditional, measured metric or business goal. I’m talking about recognising teamwork, innovation, colleague support, and collaboration on top of those ‘classic’ financial or sales targets.
It’s as morale-boosting for those doing the nominating as it is for the recipients. It becomes contagious, driving a culture of recognition, appreciation, and the desire to do more for your colleagues and your business.
Off the back of such a platform, it’s not difficult to set up regular, formal recognition awards. Employee(s) of the week, of the month, most innovative thinking, most collaborative team, best customer feedback received… the list of available accolades is almost endless and can be tweaked for your organisation or team. Awards can be accompanied by rewards, but don’t necessarily have to be. Cash rewards will always be welcome, but so will an early finish or a half-day holiday, a dress-down day, “lunch on us”, cinema tickets, a gift voucher or a fun hamper.
Read more: How to give recognition to employees
2. Communicate with, and not at, your people
Are your communications really two-way? Apart from the annual staff survey, are you asking for the thoughts, feelings and feedback from your people? Unfortunately, just running one annual survey can be perceived as management or HR simply fulfilling a duty or ticking a box.
More frequent, snappy pulse surveys are a better, more agile, and productive tool. Combining these with brief focus groups to really drill in on opinions, beliefs and feelings will, even more so, demonstrate proper listening and a consideration for employee satisfaction. They’ll also return more detailed and useful information to senior management to take forward.
Running an open mailbox is another option, provided leaders visibly acknowledge, respond to, and act upon the messages and suggestions received. Even better, offer a platform like Vevox that allows your people to submit their questions or suggestions anonymously (though the anonymity feature can be switched off). This also allows people to “like” the comments and suggestions of their colleagues. This is a great tool at large meetings, but can also be run continuously as a mailbox, with answers and feedback from senior leaders shared publicly.
Read more: Are we really listening to our people?
3. Be considerate and inclusive with your language
To be kind and inclusive, keep the language you use simple and appropriate for everyone. No-one is impressed that you know how to use an online thesaurus or that your word-of-the-day has six syllables. Avoid the over-use of acronyms or unnecessarily technical terms with which some may not be familiar. (As a tip, ask yourself if a new starter would understand your message. There could be new starters out there, after all!)
Never use in-jokes in en-masse comms. At best, you’ll come across as weird and unfunny. At worst, your audience will know that you’re essentially excluding them from your banter with your inner circle.
Read more: How I&D affect internal comms.
Watch out for common language (and even terms of affection or endearment) that may make some feel excluded. “Guys” and “lads”, for example, may not be well-received by those that aren’t, or don’t identify as, male. Similarly, be careful of being over-familiar or using humour that could offend or be misinterpreted.
And be kind. Think about the impact of the words you use. For example, don’t portray people as numbers, especially at times of restructuring.
If you’re not sure that your business is striking the right tone, put in place, or revisit your tone of voice guide.
"People don’t always remember what you say or even what you do, but they always remember how you made them feel"
- Maya Angelou (American author)
4. Can you make your comms more personalised?
Anything that shrinks the gap between “them” and “us” is great for building trust and spreading kindness. Consider employing video messages that are more authentic and empathic than the written word allows. Or send out birthday or congratulations cards that are signed personally by the CEO. These are simple steps that can really make a difference.
5. Share the love
If any good practice is to spread, it needs to be shared. If you want a culture of kindness to pervade your workplace, shout about the instances of employees showing kindness to each other. Throw a spotlight on those random acts of kindness and support. Recognise these at team meetings, Christmas dos, or awards ceremonies. Of course, this is much easier with that recognition platform highlighted above in place!
Kindness needs to start from the top, and it needs to be encouraged, recognised, and championed throughout every organisation. Being kind is free, but invaluable. You already strive for teams that are accepting, inclusive, polite, and cooperative. This is just one small step further. And it can make such a difference to so many.