Caring - Beyond Kindness
The workplace mental health movement has used kindness as a theme to increase awareness and promote the right behaviours. But have employees (including leaders and managers) sufficiently bought into the kindness message? And are acts of kindness sufficient?
If employees don’t understand why they need to be kind, or if they hold biased views (consciously or unconsciously), the kindness campaign may wash over them without any great effect, rather than carrying them along with it. This would diminish the impact of the kindness campaign as fewer people than hoped for would respond to its call to action.
More needs to be done to develop a greater sense of caring amongst employees, so they develop greater compassion, driving more employees to perform more acts of heartfelt kindness, more of the time.
Would you be happy if the leader of your religious congregation was an atheist? Would you want your sports team to have a coach who wasn’t passionate about the club? Probably not. People who believe also care. They are more likely to be more committed, more determined, more persistent and more effective. Employees with poor mental health will hope their colleagues actually believe supporting mental health is the right thing to do and actually care about helping them, as opposed to just performing acts of kindness because they’ve been told to.
Caring, compassion, kindness and tolerance are the four elements required to ensure employees support each other’s mental health most effectively.
These four elements can be considered in the following terms:
Caring - what you believe and care about
Compassion - how much you care about others and what affects them
Kindness - the behaviours and actions you demonstrate in support of others
Tolerance - setting aside or challenging and re-defining your own beliefs when taking care of someone else.
This cyclical approach makes us think about ourselves and about others, acting as a guide for all leaders, managers and employees, in the context of workplace mental health.
Caring is about you. It’s about how you think and feel, and what you believe in. Your upbringing, your education (not just in school, but also your own self-guided learning) and your own experiences, amongst other things, will all combine to shape how you think and feel, and what you believe. You will have a sense of right and wrong, and possibly a sense of social justice. Based on these ‘background’ and other factors, you will determine the people and causes for which you most care. Caring is also about your preferences and prejudices; things you’re in favour of and things you’re against. Shaw Trust (2018) found about half of employers would be willing to employ people with mental health issues, but half would not. Caring is about your own attitudes. Is your attitude towards mental health positive or negative? Do you care about the mental wellbeing of your colleagues? Leaders must first develop their own sense of caring about mental health, then develop the same sense of caring in each and every manager and employee, so this sense of caring runs throughout the entire organisation.
Compassion is about your capacity to care for others. It’s about learning of, understanding and empathising with others, including what’s affecting their mental health. Compassion can be developed by establishing a dialogue, from which an understanding can be gained. From understanding, empathy can be developed. Empathising improves your ability to provide support; the reason empathy is so vital. Poor mental health can stem from myriad causes. Stress, anxiety and other conditions can develop because of, say, worrying about poorly relatives, financial problems or because of being bullied at work. Compassion must start with finding time to talk to others, determining the causes of and effects upon their mental health. Once an understanding has been gained, empathy can be developed, with compassion being shown through acts of kindness.
Kindness relates to the behaviours you exhibit and the actions you take, based upon your caring and your compassion. Kindness is about making the lives of others better through your behaviours and actions. Kindness is about you putting into action how you care for others and, if you’re able, by improving things that are having an adverse effect upon their mental health. As a leader or manager, doing so may well be within your gift. If not, listening, understanding and supporting may still be of help. Having understood their mental state and the causes of it, you can act with kindness, helping people through a difficult moment or through their next steps when coping with a more chronic condition. Great things may come from when caring, compassion and kindness are perfectly aligned. People who care about the same things may well find it easier to be compassionate and kind towards one another, as they share a common bond.
However, where people don’t care about the same things or cannot relate to one another, they must still show compassion and kindness towards each other. Where people don’t care about the same things or cannot relate, perhaps the greatest need for tolerance arises. People who hold different views and opinions must still be able to support each other. A person of one faith can show compassion and kindness towards a person of another faith, even though they care about different faiths. A man can show compassion and kindness towards a woman having pregnancy issues. A person with no mental health issues can show compassion and kindness towards a person with mental health issues. These simplistic examples are presented to make a point. More subtly, perhaps you might not agree that giving Ritalin to a child is the right thing to do, but a colleague seeking mental health support from you because they are stressed about their ADHD child's behaviour might firmly believe in using Ritalin to treat their child’s ADHD symptoms. Your belief may conflict with that of your colleague's, so you may find yourself having to be tolerant of your colleague’s views, even though you disagree with them. Whilst caring may not always be aligned, this doesn’t mean compassion can’t be developed and kindness shown. Caring can be accompanied by tolerance. Of course, tolerance can be enlightening. Tolerance allows you to get closer to beliefs you are distant from, to learn about those beliefs, to use them to test and challenge your own opinions and, perhaps, in some instances, tolerance allows you to arrive at a new belief that redefines what you care about. Tolerance can be about more than supporting others. It can be about your own self-development.
Acts of kindness should be heartfelt. If people care, they will be more compassionate, they will perform more acts of kindness more often, and they will be more tolerant. When developing a pro-mental health workplace culture, you must develop a greater sense of caring. You, the leader, must develop this sense of caring in all your employees, so it runs throughout your entire organisation. Kindness will only become common, consistent and sustained, if employees understand why they should care, coming to the belief that supporting mental health is the right thing to do, so they show heartfelt support for their colleagues.