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Colette Tanner - Humankind in the context of the workplace

Driving through one of the northern suburbs I noticed a roughly written sign: ‘HumanKind Be Both’.
There is harmony in this word.

In a poem called “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye (1952), she writes how: “Before you know what kindness really is, you must lose things…feel the future dissolve in a minute.”

I believe that there is enormous merit in recognising the human and showing kindness to those around us and likewise to our colleagues with whom we share our day. Being kind in the context of the workplace is largely misunderstood, as is being human. Studies show that an organisation that uses a kind approach to employees exhibits a higher retention rate. A kind environment creates a
positive environment and one that employees want to operate within as the environment is supportive, collaborative and the sense of team is palpable. Kindness also produces improved productivity; an employee feels valued when they are encouraged to contribute openly and are heard. This acknowledgement gives the employee a sense of achievement and job satisfaction.

Kind workplaces increase the sense of belonging and improve employee wellness as an openness exist. A culture that expresses kindness enhances performance where a team spirit is visible, a sense that your team has your back and thus creates a space more likely to demonstrate innovation and creativity. Kindness in the workplace should not be an enigma or seen as a weakness.

A Focus on People
How would we then define human and being kind?
The decision to be kind is visceral and must be real. Research shows that being human in workplaces involves a focus on people and through this creates a sustainable and successful business. A culture
that promotes key human traits, for example, empathy towards others, the need for meaningful relationships, the sense of belonging, openness, curiosity, and the need to continue learning can only encourage a positive work environment, cultivating highly engaged, satisfied, and productive employees. Being human is not being nominal but about being authentic.

Being kind is not passive or lamenting, rather being kind is about trust, honesty, fairness, taking the high road, and considering others before oneself. In the workplace, this would be considered the company culture. The workplace is a cross section of employees with individual beliefs, personal values, ideologies, and norms, all of which through identifying, harnessing and in some cases cultivating the company values, the employees wear the company culture and demonstrate a unified force. Strong brands are often built on the back of a culture that is made tangible through its people. Reinforcing the values in the organisation embeds and indoctrinates employees where the manifestation of the cultural traits and where behaviours are authentic.

Organisational culture is a shared set of behaviours, a collective of personalities across the business, company best practises and business norms, and includes storytelling and ‘the way we do things
around here’. Culture shapes the way employees interact, behave towards one another, and engage with customers and clients. Culture is vital in shaping overall performance, employee satisfaction, and how the business is received both internally and externally. Culture can be consciously cultivated by leadership or emerge organically over time based on the history of the business and employee behaviour.

A Culture Of Kindness
Creating a culture of kindness in the workplace starts with the leadership, where there is a sense of worth, and the valuing of an individual’s views and contributions in the organisation, amongst open
communication, a sincere greeting culture, fairness in the recognition of employee efforts, honest regular feedback, and an open and transparent approach to employee expectations. All of which harbour a safe environment and a high-performance culture, which upholds excellence.

There is a positive correlation between kindness and a high-performance culture. In a high-performance culture, the work environment is designed to make the employees as effective as possible supporting business goals and providing value. A high-performance culture is characterised by a shared purpose and goal, supportive and inclusive leadership, respect, open to feedback and healthy conflict. Research shows that an organisation that exhibits kindness reports on reduced attrition and related costs, as well as improved initiative and creativity, all while boosting well-being.

Barriers to Kindness
A common barrier to kindness in the workplace is the perception that showing kindness is a weakness. Negative leadership or a toxic company culture, where aggression towards people and tasks is expressed, and where employees or teams are overloaded or overwhelmed, stymie kindness. If a team or employee is overstretched, there is no time for kindness. Managers must be vigilant where an employee or team is overwhelmed as kindness will not be the first port of call.

Leaders should pursue kindness strategies should they wish to consciously nurture kindness as a trait in their organisation. The starting point is the leader; employees watch more how a leader acts than what the leader says. The leader must lead by example, as these actions will influence the organisation’s behaviour. Leaders who endorse a greeting culture, the culture of saying ‘Thank you’ or showing gratitude and appreciation for efforts made, has the employee feeling acknowledged.

When mistakes occur, creating an environment of support and providing honest feedback with clear direction and where expectations are unambiguous is essential. Teambuilding and relationship building is key to the success of creating a kind workplace. Where employees can get to know one another, they will learn to trust and rely on one another, which creates an environment for open communication and active listening and one where you will find less conflict.

Only Kindness
Mental wellness has certainly been brought to the forefront with the pandemic. A significant focus on employee well-being and mental wellness is central to growing a kind culture. Reaching out to
a struggling employee by providing a ventilation system through remote working models can go a long way in helping those who are grappling to find their way back.

At the end of Nyes poem on Kindness she writes: “it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoelaces and sends you out in the day to gaze at bread. Only kindness that
raises its head from the crowd of the world to say. It is I you have been looking for and goes with you like a shadow or a friend.”

Acknowledgement Swinand, A. (2023)
“Why Kindness Pays off”.

DRG, DRG Siyaya
Contact Colette Tanner,
T: +27 (0)31 767 0625

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