Lockdown has given us all time to reflect on what the keys to workplace success might be in the post-COVID world and which qualities we need as leaders to navigate the crisis. According to a recent survey conducted by Hall & Partners in collaboration with the Global Thinkers Forum, Saïd Business School and the Women of the Future programme the answer to those questions is one and the same thing: kindness.

Being kind to others stimulates serotonin and oxytocin and research from the Harvard Business Review shows that when employees perceive compassion or kindness from their leaders, they show increased loyalty which in turn feeds better performance. According to the Hall & Partners report, 58% of employees believe the kind actions taken by their leaders specifically during the period of COVID-19 has made them want to stay longer at the company than originally planned. The survey also makes the point that ‘historically, kindness in business has been seen as a ‘soft’ skill, and even a weakness’ but in our COVID world it is really ‘the essential quality required when tough decision making is needed’.

A culture of kindness works at a number of levels: kindness to others, being empathetic to the challenges faced by both staff and customers; to yourself, as the best leadership comes from a state of wellbeing; and finally, kindness to the wider community as we all pull together in this recovery.

This summer Argyll was pleased to complete our London 2 London challenge, which connected over 200 employees, friends and family members isolated during lockdown to travel, virtually, around the world. The team walked, jogged, cycled and skied a total distance of 25,000 miles raising money for The Felix Project, which distributes surplus food in the local community. Not only did the initiative unite our team, but it encouraged a culture of kindness towards each other and the wider community that is still present today.

So, what are the keys to kind leadership that you need to consider?

1)   Take empathy to the next level

Now more than ever there is a need to recognise that your employees and customers are your greatest assets. Morgan Stanley and Starbucks have both added Lyra Health to their healthcare plans, which offers a curated network of therapists with near-term availability, with numerous free sessions available for either the employees themselves or their families; Vox Media is hosting a daily story time for staff with young children; and at Argyll we are holding twice-weekly virtual yoga, meditation and Pilates classes for all our customers.

2)   Show real gratitude to your people

The second lockdown is a major cause of stress and leading to lockdown burnout for many, who may feel overwhelmed, tired and unproductive. Some companies have stepped in to look after their employees with solutions centred around gratitude. On the first Monday of October this year Unilever held a Global Day of Thanks for its workers for their months of productivity brought about by the pandemic. Google made a similar move this September to preserve collective wellbeing, and others are venturing into personalised virtual Christmas parties with game-based experiences that are more memorable than the face-to-face events.

3)   Recognise the power of random acts of kindness

Even the smallest gestures can have a big impact on individuals. Some companies such as CitiMortgage use spot bonuses, typically paid ‘on the spot’ to individuals or groups of employees for a specific behaviour, action or result. Beer delivery service DeskBeers changed their focus in the wake of the crisis from bulk orders delivered to offices on Friday lunchtimes to sending drinks to staff and customers in multiple locations, and Deliveroo for Business says that in recent months there has been a 25-fold increase in the number of companies providing virtual gift cards.

Ultimately, organisations that value kindness will come through the crisis more successfully, with a more motivated, loyal and productive team.

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