The psychology of kindness and wellbeing at work

Smiley yellow face cookies! Image by Tim Mossholder via Unsplash. Thanks Tim.

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The modern workplace is often fast-paced and stressful, making practising kindness towards our colleagues more important than ever for both our physical and mental health. 

In this post, we’ll explore the scientifically proven benefits that kindness and empathy have on physical wellbeing, focus, self-esteem, and conflict resolution. 

How kindness protects against illness

Being kind can decrease stress, which is vital in today’s environment; chronic stress is on the rise, with work being cited as one of the main contributors. When you’re constantly stressed, cortisol is overactive in the body, leading to chronic inflammation. 

Acute inflammation helps to protect the body; if your leg is cut, inflammation rushes to the site to heal the injury. Chronic inflammation however is the extension of a short-term physiological solution to a mental/emotional issue. Since the inflammatory response cannot heal (and actually worsens) the psychological problem, it is not automatically switched off and can lead to catastrophic physical symptoms

This inflammatory stress response can lead to a myriad of health problems like:

  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 
  • Arthritis
  • IBS
  • Endometriosis
  • Psoriasis

Whilst these results may sound dramatic, this is the reality. Though genetics can predispose individuals to these health conditions, research in epigenetics shows that environmental factors have a far bigger influence on disease development particularly in inflammatory illnesses.

This finding is overwhelmingly positive; we have the power to protect the health of ourselves and the people around us – starting with kindness. Remember, a healthier company is not only happier but more engaged too.

Supportive environments improve focus and drive

When we do something nice for someone else, our brains release neurotransmitters like oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine – all chemicals that boost your mood and promote altruism.

Participating in acts of kindness doesn’t just make us happy though, it can also boost our self-esteem. When you feel self-assured you can move with confidence and get things done.

Plus, being kind towards your colleagues – supporting them with kind words, encouragement or validation of hard work – will boost their confidence, freeing them to channel energy into actual work instead of wasting mental resources worrying about interpersonal dynamics.

What’s more, your support has a knock-on effect on the people around you and often comes full circle. Building an affirming professional environment allows everyone to show up as their best and most focused selves every day. 

Practicing empathy reduces conflict

Viewing situations through the lens of empathy prompts us to consider others’ perspectives before reacting. This builds understanding between coworkers and teams, strengthening workplace cohesion. 

Instead of getting defensive when collaborators offer criticism, for example, reacting with empathy allows us to hear the actual feedback. This prevents conflict and miscommunication, creating space for organic growth and improvement. 

Overall, nurturing a culture of empathy leads to cooler heads prevailing even in high-stress situations.

At the end of the day, consciously striving for empathy and kindness will fundamentally shift your culture. You alleviate the toxic health effects of a high-stress environment, create psychological safety employees need to take smart risks, and engage more openly as a team.

Practising small acts of goodwill towards those around us heals both ourselves and our organisation – boosting longevity, satisfaction, and ultimately, the bottom line.

So next time you find workplace stress rising, try meeting the situation with patience, validation, and care. Notice the spark this ignites in yourself and others. Lead with compassion and see what opens up for you and your team.