Spreading kindness makes better companies
15th November 2022
British psychologist Claudia Hammond has written a book called The Keys to Kindness, in
which she documents the many health and happiness benefits of kindness to both the
recipient and the giver.
She was inspired to write this by watching the many acts of kindness that emerged during
the Covid-19 pandemic.
Do you remember the paradoxical hopes we had during the depths of lockdown – that things
would return to normal quickly, but also that normal would change? We glimpsed a world of
quieter, cleaner cities with wild animals strolling through the streets. We enjoyed more family
time and discovered new hobbies like the famous banana bread. We reflected on life and
death and determined to live our lives in future with greater attention to meaning and
especially to relationships.
We dreamt of a world where the nations could come together in a shared urgency to
overcome a threat to humanity. If we could do this against the coronavirus, why not against
climate change, hunger, war and oppression, gender-based violence, child abuse and
From her research Hammond notes that kindness benefits the recipient, but also brings the
giver happiness, health, even longer life and physical strength. And the effect on the giver is
longer lasting than on the recipient. It is a healthy thing for everyone to be kind.
In one study, when given money and told to spend it either on themselves or others, those
who spent it on others turned out to be happier than those who spent it on themselves.
There is evidence that older people who volunteer live longer.
She defines kindness as doing something with the intention of helping someone else.
Kindness can be expressed in small daily acts like smiling at or greeting someone, doing a
small favour, bringing someone tea, noticing how others are feeling, including them in the
conversation, listening with focused attention, affirming something another has done or said.
Of course there are heroic acts of kindness too, but we don’t get to do those every day.
Toddlers express kindness, even before they develop “theory of mind”, which is the capacity
to understand what another person is thinking or experiencing. There seems to be an
instinct for kindness and our brains reward us for it.
Why do we hesitate to offer kindness? The biggest reason cited is apparently
embarrassment. We don’t want our gesture to be misinterpreted. We need more courage to
risk being kind! Kindness goes with confidence.
Do you remember doom scrolling through the pandemic? The antidote was to ration
exposure to news about infection rates and focus instead on the care shown by medical staff
and indeed our neighbours. Similarly, we can take care to attend to positive acts of kindness
while rationing our attention to bad news.
Seeing kindness stimulates more kindness. So we can increase acts of kindness in others
by demonstrating it ourselves.
Kindness can spread through an organisation by the influence of a kind leader. Not only do
givers and receivers of kindness feel better, but apparently they also report increased job
Hammond reports an experiment conducted in Spain in which each week for four weeks,
staff planned five acts of kindness for colleagues. Life satisfaction increased for both givers
and receivers. A month later, the effects had worn off for the recipients, but continued for the
Maybe the job description of those of us who lead organisations should include organising to
spread kindness. We could recruit colleagues to join us in spreading random kindness and
senseless acts of beauty, as Anne Herbert suggested in her 1993 book. There are web sites
with practical ideas for spreading kindness. That would be one way to fulfil our pandemic-
inspired commitment to make a better world.
This is a coaching columns for Business Day, published on 15th November 2022 (https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2022-11-14-jonathan-cook-spread-a-little-kindness-yes-even-at-work/)
Jonathan Cook, a counselling psychologist, chairs the African Management Institute. If you’d like to read previous columns in this series or ask Jonathan a question please visit http://www.africanmanagers.org/jonathan-cook
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