Kindness is taking centre stage for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week*, organised by the Mental Health Foundation. It’s a great focal point for conversations as the world navigates the mental health concerns arising from COVID-19.

Over the last few months, there have been many stories about human kindness. Neighbours helping the more vulnerable in their community, retirees returning to the front-lines of public service, and of course, the healthcare professionals tirelessly caring for their patients.

With the spotlight on kindness, what can HR do to ensure it’s ingrained in their company culture?

Kindness is conveyed through both words and actions. Discovering where your company can improve in the kindness stakes necessitates looking at both.

Start with your values

Kindness is a value that most people were taught at an early age, but unfortunately the competitive nature of the workforce can sometimes result in behaviours that are less than kind. HR should be at the forefront of championing kindness as an important value for their organisation. Setting a high expectation for how people relate to each other supports good teamwork and respect.

Articulating kindness as a value also makes it easier to identify and address behaviours that are unkind, and counterproductive to a harmonious working environment. Expectations of kindness can be reinforced as needed in performance reviews, helping to shape the overall company culture.

Align HR with Internal Comms

If your HR team isn’t already working closely with your internal communications team, now is a good time to start. Having set kindness as a key company value, look at the tone that’s being used to communicate with staff. Does it reflect a kind and caring organisation? Do company-wide communications speak in a language that you’d like your staff to emulate?

It might be a useful exercise to work with the internal communications team on creating a style guide that reflects company values. This is especially important in helping senior staff members to communicate with a common voice, embodying kindness and empathy from the top down.

Walk the talk

Once you’ve established that kindness is important to your organisation, and you’ve ensured the language your business uses is aligned to that, it’s time to bring kindness to life through your actions.

Do you have any current HR initiatives that show kindness to your workforce?

Would your HR policies stand up to scrutiny if you looked at each of them through a ‘kindness’ lens?

Do you know of any team leaders who are great at showing and promoting kindness in their team?

Taking a ‘kind’ approach to your HR activities sets a tone that the rest of your business will pick up on. It will help build relationships between HR and the business, and it will show HR as role models for thoughtful business practices.

From small kind gestures to bigger actions, below are some activities HR can lead on to embed kindness in their organisation, especially during COVID-19:

  • Send virtual cards to celebrate birthdays and milestones, and encourage line managers to do the same to say thank you for a job well done.
  • Remind your workforce about the resources and support you have available for mental health so staff have the information to hand if they need it.
  • If someone has been unwell, or a member of their family has been ill, send a card/flowers/etc as appropriate.
  • Use internal communication channels to remind people that being thoughtful in the moment is just as important as planned actions – giving people extra space to observe social distancing, inviting quieter members of the team to talk during group discussions, and remembering to say thank you go a long way!
  • If you know that someone has been struggling with work or personal issues, give them a call to see how they’re getting on. Likewise, if you know staff members live alone, make sure they are in regular contact with their team or other members of the organisation.
  • Be as flexible as possible with requests for time off and changing holiday allowance carry over. This act of kindness can make a big difference to people in managing their work-life balance.
  • Encourage senior management to think about additional perks they might be willing to offer while people are managing work and COVID-19 related stresses and distractions. For example, duvet days for people’s birthdays, Friday afternoons off, greater flexibility in working hours, etc can all be a nice way to show your workforce they are appreciated.
  • Budget permitting, explore giving staff prizes by way of vouchers or other rewards. The prizes could be for exceptional work, behaviours that bring to life company values, or other activities you’d like to highlight.
  • Identify and make available the training opportunities (free and paid-for) that will be most beneficial for your workforce.
  • Organise a fundraiser for a charity that is meaningful to your organisation and your staff. If you have staff members whose partners provide an essential service, such as the NHS, raising funds for them is a good way to show solidarity with your staff and help the wider community.
  • Ask your people what they need! Sometimes it’s easy to forget to simply offer a helping hand, making it clear that the business can work with staff to find solutions to challenges (work related or otherwise).

People express kindness in different ways. Conveying kindness in how you communicate with your staff, as well as showing them they work for a thoughtful kind company through initiatives like the above might just be the panacea the world needs to the current health crisis.


Shandel McAuliffe author image

Shandel McAuliffe

Now based in sunny Australia, Shandel is prolific writer and editor - particularly in the world of HR. She's worked for some big names, including the CIPD and the Adecco Group. And more recently, she's been the Editor for new HR publication HR Leader.