Donald Moore, chair of B Corporation schoolwear manufacturer, Rowlinson Knitwear, considers why employers should be kinder to their employees, customers and associates
Being kind in business is no longer an option, it’s a necessity. A successful business depends on it and yet many organisations still fail to show kindness to their people. So what is ‘kindness’ in a business context exactly and what are the business benefits of showing a strategy of care?
Defining kindness in business
Even ten years ago, kindness in business was seen as a weakness. It was often associated with being a ‘push over’ and lacking authority. Thankfully, things have moved on and kindness is now more widely accepted as an important quality that contributes to a leader’s emotional intelligence. However, it isn’t sufficient for a few business leaders to exhibit kindness, it must be part of the fabric of the organisation. In other words, there needs to be a culture of kindness.
To achieve this, the company needs to value compassion and caring for others and this needs to be reinforced in everything it does, from how people are treated during the recruitment process through to how they’re onboarded, managed and recognised on a day-to-day basis. Leaders must understand their role as nurturers and mentors rather than authoritarians, and clarity and honesty in communication is vital, even when the truth is hard to share. It’s also important for there to be consistency in actions and behaviour from everyone in the business. And there must be a focus on putting individuals’ needs first, prioritising their social, emotional and financial wellbeing. Considerate and supportive employers are more likely to help their employees feel happy and to do their best work, too. In fact, measuring employee happiness is a more meaningful metric for the wellbeing of the overall business, with happy employees driving change that contributes to great customer satisfaction scores, business improvements and a positive workplace culture.
Practical ways to be kind
In practical terms, kindness needs to be ingrained into the company’s processes and procedures. To start with, all colleagues should be paid a fair wage. Being a real Living Wage employer should therefore go hand-in-hand with a culture of kindness, and this means caring for all colleagues, including those ‘hidden from sight’. Businesses must do their due diligence to ensure all workers across the entire supply chain are paid fairly and are treated with respect.
All colleagues need to understand that unkind behaviour won’t be tolerated and there are processes in place to deal with this. The benefits and rewards strategy must also be aligned with a culture of compassion; when people exhibit selfless and caring behaviours, these should be recognised by the company and rewarded accordingly. Extra annual leave is a great way to reward kindness, for example. In addition, flexible working arrangements should be provided to accommodate people’s individual needs, and comprehensive benefits, interest-free crisis loans and full colleague support for medical and personal challenges should be provided as standard.
Business benefits of kindness
Being kind in business is morally the right thing to do. As a B Corp, Rowlinson is focused on putting people and planet before profit in order to create an inclusive and sustainable economy that works for everyone. However, this doesn’t mean compromising on business success. In fact, being kind in business delivers a number of business benefits. For example, when people feel cared for and a sense of belonging at their workplace, this increases engagement and morale. On top of this, productivity is increased, staff turnover is reduced and a business recognised as caring for its people is more likely to attract a higher calibre of recruit.
The repercussions of treating people badly
Not being kind can lead to severe repercussions and this has been demonstrated by a number of companies over the past nine months. When faced with a global health crisis, some businesses ignored the Government guidance and decided to compromise their workers’ health, safety, financial security and dignity. Wetherspoons, Sports Direct and Topshop are among the retail chains criticised for refusing to pay staff or laying staff off when the crisis first hit, seriously damaging their reputations and post-pandemic recovery efforts. And Amazon France received a severe backlash after failing to do enough to protect its employees from COVID-19.
But it’s not just bad behaviours during a crisis that people remember. A company is built on everyday employee experiences and if it fails to put its people’s health and wellbeing first as a matter of course, this will impact engagement and morale, reputation and ultimately business success. After all, people would rather not work for unkind companies, and customers don’t want to trade with companies that simply don’t care about their people.
A final thought
Lacking compassion means treating people as commodities rather than valuable contributors to the business and this is simply unethical. Yes, it takes effort to ensure kindness runs through every part of a business, but it’s worth it. After all, a compassionate business is a winning business that recognises its role as a force for good.