With the Random Acts of Kindness Week (RAK) now upon us, we are reminded that sometimes, an unexpected gesture of kindness can turn a bad situation into an uplifting moment that resonates long after the deed is done.
By Michael Lloyd-White
Bullying has filtered into almost every fabric of our society with dire consequences both socially and financially. We don’t have to look far to find a story about a child committing suicide, self-harming or refusing to attend school due to bullying. Some may argue that bullying has become a 21st century pandemic, which invites the question, ‘has kindness gone missing-in-action’?
Today businesses go to great efforts to ensure that they are compliant with creating safe working environments; at least, we assume this is the case given the mountains of handbooks and guidelines covering WH&S with signed training manuals ensuring staff have attained the necessary level of skills for each task. Interestingly, many of these documents have little or no reference to kindness – with the focus primarily being on physicality, rather than mental and emotional wellness.
It may be fair to argue that corporate compliance is not driven by humanity but rather the bottom line. Insurance companies are the ones who dictate safe workplaces as part of their risk mitigation strategy in the event of injury claims.
According to a recent report by the Australian Productivity Commission, work place bullying costs employers AUD 10 billion per year and the Australian economy almost AUD 15 Billion annually. These estimations are based on costs associated with increased absenteeism and the loss of productivity due to employee disengagement as result of bullying.
While incidents of workplace injury have decreased in developed nations, accounts of reported incidents of workplace bullying have increased. In Australia it is now illegal to bully within the workplace with fines in excess of AUD500,000 for companies and AUD50,000 for individuals. Companies found not to have workshops and orientations regarding bullying in place are also liable.
In my opinion, bullying is a symptom of a fearful society where bystander behaviour has become commonplace. Few people are prepared to speak up for others as they fear it puts them at risk of becoming the next target.
Employee WH&S committees are established to develop safety policies including fire, slip and fall, correct lifting and prevent discrimination and harassment, however to my knowledge, there has not been a position on the committee to specifically address cultures of bullying. One organisation that is getting it right and is actively pursuing a culture of kindness is Consult Australia (peak industry body for design and construction).
According to CEO Megan Motto, Consult Australia appointed a CFO (Chief Fun Officer) to keep the office positive:
“I simply chose the person who best emulated a positive and inclusive nature, as we see this as essential, using upbeat activities creates goodwill and becomes infectious. It keeps morale high and disputes and angst to a minimum,” says Motto.
Statistics in first-world nations demonstrate a dramatic decrease in workplace injuries, supported by training packages to ensure the staff work environment is safe. However, the most dangerous thing in a room when a facilitator evaluates risk, is not the faulty power socket or the rickety chair, it is the people in the room whom are all capable of causing harm. Harm through an inappropriate abusive word, harm through exclusion, harm through not acting or speaking up.
According to the US Department of Labour White Paper 2012, “OSHA examined injury and illness prevention programs in eight states where the state had either required a program or provided incentives or requirements through its workers’ compensation programs. The successes of these state programs resulted in lowering injury and illness incidences from 9 percent to more than 60 percent”.
While workplace compliance has increased, HR Departments’ resources are often decreased, partly due to automation of tasks and cost cutting measures post GFC. In some cases, HR has become a Virtual Compliance Manager whereby manuals are rarely referred to after the first day on the job. Under resourced HR departments has seen the recruitment training process turn into a virtual rubber stamp policy, rather than ensuring actual accreditation is completed and assessed thoroughly. Time critical projects often see proper compliance become the first casualty, however if ‘evidence’ is required, the paper work is in order. HR, which primarily use to focus on developing the culture of the company has gone by the way side and now by default is contributing to the problem.
To combat a culture of corporate compliance, kindness can start with you. I often say, kindness is like buying a Volvo… until you buy one, you never see them. When you do, they are ubiquitous. Kindness is the same. If every leader placed kindness on their weekly team meeting agenda, I will guarantee you’ll start to see kindness manifest everywhere. Simarily, publicly acknowledging an act of kindness among colleagues can be just as powerful as the act of kindness – and it is one of the most powerful tools in bullying prevention and discouraging bystander behaviour.
Whether you are a public or private company or an NGO, having a physical presence and representative networking, promoting and highlighting the goodwill within your organisation will provide a common purpose, thereby creating an environment less likely to cultivate a culture of bystander behaviour. Don’t wait for your CEO or HR Manager, take the initiative and start making kindness a part of your weekly team meeting conversations.
If your workplace environment is currently toxic, with a culture of exclusion and bullying, change will not come quickly. However, by calling out bullying behaviour with a tangible program in kindness that includes all employees, will be great place to start.
Penalties and fines for negligence or a lack of duty of care to ensure compliance are one thing, however many incidents fall between the cracks because they are not reported. By placing kindness on the agenda, this will cast a wide net of positive influence. As mentioned in my last feature, appointing a Goodwill Ambassador for your workplace could be just the ticket to a happier, safer, productive and hence, more profitable workplace.
For further information, contact World Kindness USA and inquire about corporate membership or our Goodwill Ambassador program. In the meantime, get on board RAK Week starting 11 to 17 February 2018 and celebrate the kindness of others.