2020's theme for Mental Health Awareness week is Kindness. Mark Rowland, Chief Executive for the Mental Health Foundation thought of the idea when he was handed an umbrella by a supermarket employee, as he stood under the rain in a socially distanced queue, waiting to do his weekly shop.  

Kindness is something we have seen in abundance these last few weeks, as we have all collectively adapted to our new society.  It's found in the doorstep drops of food, gifts and cards to our neighbours. It's the books and toys left at the bottom of our drives to share with others.  It's the support and free food for our Key Workers. As well as the free online courses, the volunteering, the virtual catch ups and the motivational texts.   

In a time where we are experiencing change and trauma, kindness gives us safety and it's good for our health.  Studies have shown how it fuels energy and self-esteem, enables us to live longer and create happiness.  It strengthens relationships.  It's also scientifically proven to be contagious - when we witness it happen we, in turn, wish to do it ourselves. Through kindness we motivate each other to treat each other better.  All of this together is a massive boost to our mental health.

Kindness at home, with family and friends, is often easily achievable.  What about the workplace?  How can we get the balance right with kindness and commerciality and many of the difficult decisions that leaders have to make?  In work, we must take steps to leave space for human kindness and reflect many of the behaviours we see at home in the workplace too.  

There is now the rise of the 'kindness economy' which shows a shift in what clients and consumers want.  They're more interested in the ethics of a business than ever before.  They want to know how they treat their people and care for the environment.  Businesses ultimately need to focus on all stakeholders, not just shareholders.  As Mary Portas describes in her predictions over the retail industry, it's "a new economy that businesses have to get used to, one that’s built on a new value system...this new era, The Kindness Economy, is going to be about sentience. It’s going to be about care, respect and understanding the implications of what we are doing."

We also know that how leaders treat their people has a huge impact on their workplace wellbeing, their engagement levels and in turn their retention.  According to a study by Warwick University happy people are 12% more productive than their counterparts.  Kindness starts with leaders setting the right example and climate.  Kind leadership brings in all the different elements of authenticity, transparency, warmth, building trust, and empowering people so it's crucial that leaders give thought to kindness and how they wish their staff to work and respond to this as a company culture. Kindness between colleagues means more connectivity, openness and shared understanding - all great behaviours for being better productive teams.  

Here's three ideas that might help start you thinking about kindness in the workplace in a new way:

1) Values and behaviours: start with the people.  What do you need and want from each other to be a great place to work? What values are important?  Think broadly about what kindness means to your business - listening, feedback, being honest, making each other feel safe, involving people, building trust and showing compassion might be some of the many examples available. Ensure these expected behaviours are transparent, discussed frequently and celebrated.  

2) Challenge yourself to random acts of kindness and the 'pay it forward' principle: As an individual, a team or across the business commit to the deliberate practice of charitable actions.  Make it a habit to do a good deed on a daily basis  - to your colleagues or other key stakeholders - and see how it makes you feel.  If you receive kindness, 'pay it forward.'  Paying it forward means that you show generosity and support to others instead of the original benefactor.  This means that the kindness grows and spreads. See what impact it has and what gets returned to you!

3) Adopt the principles of a 'Go-Giver:' Burg and Mann in their short story, 'The Go-Giver' about a powerful business idea, focus on the concept of 'go-giving' rather than go-getting.  A 'go-giver' is someone who gives thought, attention, care and value to others. They argue it leads to a more satisfying and fulfilling way to do business and the concept is based around five key principles.   This includes the law of value "your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment" and the law of influence "your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people's interests first."

During mental health awareness week, I encourage you to think about how you can make more of the opportunity to be kind to others, whether at home or at work. Reflect on the meaning behind acts of kindness and look to reach out more to others.  As Rowland says, "kindness can be transformative...and is never wasted."