Less exhaustion and more productivity for your workforce are just some of the benefits of leading with kindness, experts from Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) remind us.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Dr Daniel Tan, Chief Executive Officer of healthcare company Parkway Laboratories, did something unexpected. He shared about having burnout in an e-mail to his employees.
“In the old days, the boss was expected to be a warrior leader – fearless, brave, and would charge through anything. That was the old perception,” Dr Tan told TODAY. “Times have changed, and that’s where we have to start to change as well.”
The traits associated with effective leadership have shifted over the years. Now, progressive employers recognise that qualities such as being able to show vulnerability, empathy, and kindness are important to connect with employees and support them so they can do their best work.
Leading with kindness could ensure less exhaustion and more productivity for your workforce. According to a Gallup poll, employees are 62% less likely to be burnt out when their managers genuinely care about and address their work-related problems. After all, stress-related illnesses cost Singapore’s economy US$2.3bn a year.
Another study by Nanyang Technological University and the University of Amsterdam showed that when organisations have caring bosses, employees are less likely to participate in fraudulent activities that are detrimental to the company. A notable trait, as employee collusion costs companies worldwide an estimated 5% of their annual revenue.
So, what does being a kind leader at the workplace entail?
Devote time and effort to know your people
The better you know your workforce, the more targeted your employee engagement and retention strategies can be. As a leader, take some time to think of the intentional steps to take to understand your employees.
Find ways to gauge your employees’ needs, interests, strengths, and personal aspirations.
Leaders can do this by gathering qualitative data through informal chats and small group discussions to understand employee attitudes and concerns. More formal channels of information may also be used such as anonymous employee engagement surveys and assessments such as the TAFEP’s Fair and Progressive Employment Index which enables employers to audit their workplace culture and offers recommendations to address identified gaps in practices.
In order to fully understand your workforce, a culture of transparent communication is needed. This culture needs to be built from the top, with the leadership role-modelling authentic and open conversations. When leaders are open about their thoughts and challenges, as Dr Tan had done, employees too, feel encouraged and supported to share honest feedback and opinions. This ultimately provides accurate insights that leaders can act on.
Devote resources to improve workplace culture & practices
Kind leadership in the workplace also translates to allocating resources to create a workplace where employees are treated fairly and with mutual respect. For some employers, this may even extend to reviewing current HR practices and policies to eliminate bias.
These initiatives may range from implementing an objective performance management framework to assess employee performance, to creating an effective grievance-handling process to ensure employees have proper recourse.
Progressive employers may go a step further by addressing the work-life needs of employees through flexible work arrangements and other work-life practices designed to help employees achieve better work-life harmony.
However, it is worth noting that, a kind leader does not accede to all requests.
“A kind leader is not a permissive person or pushover,” writes Dr William Wan, General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement, in an article for the Singapore Institute of Management. Rather, when such a leader says “no”, it comes not from impatience but a desire to guide, challenge, and mentor.
Thus, when kind leaders invest in efforts that support employee wellbeing, they also ensure that these are relevant and sustainable over the long term by understanding employee needs, assessing the suitability of resources, and finally, implementing them well. As past exemplary award-winning employers have found, making these investments in the workforce can help strengthen employee engagement, and result in better organisational performance.
In summary, effective leadership is no longer based on command and control, but built on communication, honesty, and empathy. Employers who lead with kindness to support employees will be able to achieve business goals more readily than those who don’t.