By the end of 2019 we were probably all getting a little bit of negative news fatigue. In the workplace that translated into news of inappropriate workplace cultures, sexual harassment, misuse of confidentiality clauses and bullying. And that was before we had even heard of coronavirus. It wasn't all bad - mental health awareness was being highlighted and wellness in the workplace generally was a talking point, but for many it hadn't got past that - a talking point that still needed action.
The detrimental impact on the workplace of bullying and other toxic working environments is well known. Morally, employees should not be miserable at work. Legally, their health and safety should be protected. Financially, it is estimated that 70 million work days are lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK, costing employers approximately £2.4 billion a year. Team work is disrupted, management time is taken up, the risk of employment law claims increases and, on an individual basis, the damage to mental health can be significant and lasting.
The cause of this type of environment flourishing is not always as straight forward as one bad egg causing a problem. Perhaps a particularly competitive environment contributes to this, or job insecurity (whatever the cause), senior management turning a blind eye too often, unachievable workloads leading to stress, or discrimination leading to resentment and inequality.
The current pandemic has made us stop and think about both our working and living environment - for those now working from home the two have to some extent merged. But even for those who have remained in the workplace, their way of working will likely have dramatically changed. And it is probably fair to say that what many of us will be missing will be direct human interaction - the company of our colleagues, making coffee for those that want it, sharing cakes, the odd joke that makes everyone crack a smile. These are the little acts of kindness that brighten up everyone's day.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, 72% of workers believe we should become a kinder society after the pandemic. Kindness is the theme of this week's mental health awareness week, chosen because of its ability to "strengthen relationships, develop community and deepen solidarity". These attributes are as beneficial in the workplace as they are in wider society. Research also shows that an act of kindness can improve feelings of confidence, being in control, happiness and optimism. Not only would we all benefit from these feelings now, bringing them back into the workplace could significantly enhance workplace environments.
The world of work has very likely been changed forever by the events of the past few months. As people and businesses return to a "new normal", let's make kindness a part of that.