The last few months have been difficult, but they have often brought out the best in us: thousands of people signing up to be GoodSAM NHS volunteers, neighbours offering to do each other’s shopping, Captain Tom Moore’s fundraising efforts and the weekly #clapforcarers have shown just how much kindness matters in a crisis.
Positive connections and interactions with people are one of the greatest predictors of our happiness. Our nervous systems respond to kindness and helping other people and connecting with them creates feelings of pleasure, safety and warmth in our brains. Humans have evolved to behave in ways that promote the survival of our species, and kindness and looking out for others have been crucial. From around 18 months old young children demonstrate an instinct to be kind, for example, by picking something up someone has dropped or hugging or kissing someone who looks sad.
Kindness in the legal workplace
However, kindness is not always seen as a priority in the legal workplace as it contrasts with the competitive, cut and thrust nature of the law. In the past few weeks you may have experienced some kindness from your colleagues, or you may have not. At LawCare we have seen both sides of the coin.
We have heard from legal professionals who have not been allowed to work from home or who have had little to no communication or reassurance from their managers. Others have had the opportunity to see their colleagues in a different light via Zoom calls, which have shown them working in more casual clothes and with their kids, pets or books in the background. They may have appeared more human and approachable than before as a consequence. Colleagues may have been more understanding about deadlines or meeting times, asked how you are coping or spoken about their own situation at home more. Many organisations have made sure to check on members of staff or offered virtual opportunities for connecting and chatting outside of work calls.
We know that many lawyers are not happy. Research and data produced over the last few years from a range of sources suggests that stress and anxiety are common. Could more kindness in the legal profession be the answer to tackling some of these issues and creating happier workplaces? A study from the journal Emotion showed that kindness in the workplace can create a ripple effect throughout the whole organisation, resulting in a happier workforce with employees experiencing greater job satisfaction, autonomy and feeling more competent at their jobs.
How to practice kindness in the workplace
Musician Jon Batiste said that “You’re never too important to be nice to people.” It doesn’t matter how busy or stressed you are, you should always treat colleagues with respect by listening, saying please and thank you, and sometimes picking up the phone rather than sending an email. Sadly, at LawCare we know that this just doesn’t happen in some legal workplaces. We often hear from tearful or anxious lawyers who have been shouted at, ignored, undermined or talked down to. Being respectful in the workplace benefits everyone and the research supports this view.
Harvard Business Review research has found that respect was the most important quality in a leader and that the most likable leaders, who expressed warmth, were also the most effective leaders. Treating people well means that they will be more likely to want to work for you and do well for you. Civility is contagious, so if leaders model this behaviour it will filter down to the rest of the organisation and result in a happier, healthier, more motivated workforce and better retention rates.
Compassion is a huge part of kindness. Learn how to step into someone else’s shoes for a moment and understand that everyone is dealing with a wide variety of issues at work and at home that you might know nothing about. These are challenging times, so ask people how they are feeling, how they are coping with their workload and what you can do to help. When something goes wrong, try to find out why in a sensitive way, rather than blaming them, and forgive people for their mistakes. We all make them!
Give praise and show gratitude
Lawyers are typically very competitive and details-focused, and legal work is often about winning or losing. We frequently forget to celebrate our successes and instead focus on what went wrong, even when it’s very minor. At LawCare we often get calls from legal professionals who are still thinking about a mistake that they made years ago. We should go beyond just handing out a bonus and ensure that credit is given where it is due. It can often be achieved by simply saying “well done” or “thank you”. This will help people feel valued and prevent workplace-related anxiety building, which can occur when staff aren’t getting positive feedback from their colleagues or managers.
One of the greatest ways to demonstrate kindness in the workplace is by helping others. For example, by:
- Volunteering to help someone with a project when they are overwhelmed.
- Offering to show someone how to do something technical.
- Suggesting a five-minute brainstorm to a colleague who seems to be at a dead end.
- Mentoring or reaching out to build a connection with someone.
We all have unique skills that can help others and it benefits us to help other people, making us feel valued and giving us a sense of purpose. Making kindness a priority in the workplace will make the law a happier and healthier place to work. Kindness is contagious; frequent acts of kindness at every level in the workplace will lead to more engaged and connected staff. Try being friendly, generous or considerate today. Kindness matters more now than ever.
LawCare offers a free, confidential emotional support service to all legal professionals, their support staff and families in the UK and Ireland. We’re here to listen, with helpline calls, emails and webchats answered in confidence by trained staff and volunteers who have first-hand experience of working in the law. We also have a network of peer supporters and offer information and training to legal workplaces.