Why cultivating kindness at work makes good business sense
In our fast-paced world, most of our waking moments are monopolised by screens and phones.
We are constantly bombarded with the ‘latest and greatest,’ ‘billionaire lists,’ and ‘influencers’ selling us the idea of more happiness in the form of 7-figure businesses, holidays, and clothing. Happiness is regularly pursued extrinsically, and as a result, often remains elusive.
However, what if someone told you that there was something that could make you happier than earning more money? Would you opt in?
Money won’t make you happier, in the long run
According to a recently released survey, the answer to increasing our long-term happiness has been in front of us all along. It’s not a higher salary, it’s the presence of kindness.
So, what is happiness anyway? The science and study of positive psychology defines it as, ‘… a state of wellbeing that encompasses living a good life, one with a sense of meaning and deep contentment’. When you think about it logically, it makes sense that kindness makes us happier. Who doesn’t love someone doing something kind for them – you feel good! But how could it possibly be better than money?
Kindness in business and leadership has often been perceived historically as a weakness. Thankfully, the tide is shifting when it comes to the more traditional ‘soft skills’ at work such as empathy, compassion and kindness.
As we re-emerged into the world after the pandemic, we started to evaluate what work meant to us and how we felt while we were there. People vacated jobs that no longer inspired them, they moved locations to find more meaningful communities and started to demand that workplaces take mental health and wellbeing seriously.
In late 2022, the World Health Organisation reported that anxiety and depression cost the global economy upwards of $1 trillion annually. People are, more now than ever, feeling disconnected and lonely.
I have watched peers leave jobs that no longer ‘light them up’ for values-aligned, lesser-paying positions because, no matter how much they earned, they felt empty, emotionally undervalued, and exhausted.
As an executive HR consultant, I’ve been privy to people leaving well-paying jobs where toxic behaviour wasn’t addressed, resulting in a culture of dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and disillusionment. No amount of money can fix the negative feelings associated with working in a toxic workplace.
We often believe that earning more money will make us happier, however, studies have shown that as our earnings increase, we quickly adapt, and our happiness is short-lived.
Kindness at work and happiness go hand in hand
Why does kindness matter so much to our happiness? Kindness is scientifically proven to be good for us. Due to its contagion, a single act of kindness can impact up to 125 people and is one of the most beneficial things that can help support our health and wellbeing.
From a biochemical perspective, practicing kindness triggers the production of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin in our bodies while simultaneously reducing the stress hormone, cortisol. These chemicals play crucial roles in deepening social bonds, fostering trust, elevating mood, and promoting a sense of calm. The sensation experienced after performing a kind act is frequently referred to as the ‘helper’s high.’
But why does this matter in the workplace?
It matters a whole lot. Happier and healthier humans are more engaged, committed, and productive. The more we feel as though we are seen, heard, and valued and that our presence matters, the more likely we are to feel an intrinsic drive to show up positively at work and for those with whom we work. If we care about others in a genuine and authentic manner, and the same is returned, longer-term happiness can be achieved.
Here are a few simple (and cost-free!) methods for integrating kindness into the workplace to enhance happiness:
- Check-in with the humans you work with! Daily. Showing others you truly care about them – not just the work that they do – will help build deeper connections and trust.
- Stay consistent and set boundaries – consistency creates trust and boundaries ensure people know where they stand and why it matters.
- Don’t be afraid to address inappropriate behaviour within the workplace. What we walk past, we accept. Setting expectations shows people you believe in them but also that how we treat others matters to you.
- Bring the outside in, or give people access to natural spaces – fresh air, plants, grass and trees (if possible!). A connection to nature boosts creativity, reduces stress levels and helps concentration and productivity.
- Be curious and humble in your work. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or admit you don’t have all the answers. In fact, asking for help particularly as a leader can build trust and connection with your teams.
- Take care of yourself, first. The happier and healthier you are, the more you will share that with others.
Cultivating cultures of kindness in workplaces not only makes good business sense but also supports the wellbeing and growth of the individuals within the organisation. While money may not bring long-term happiness, kindness certainly can.
Sophie Bretag is the CEO and founder of Metta Leaders.