Each day, managers and employees at all levels tackle challenges in the workplace. These challenges are often impossible to anticipate, as demonstrated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which put millions of people in difficult, often devastating, situations. Even research conducted during the pandemic’s earliest days (from the end of March to the beginning of April 2020) concluded that Covid-19 negatively impacted the mental health of 42% of 2,000 employees in the UK, U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, and Singapore.
While Covid-19 caused global challenges that affected many people, we all also face individual challenges, often difficulties that few others know about. That’s why Gary McGaghey, the acclaimed divisional and group CFO, is keen to encourage leaders to integrate kindness into their working approaches.
The Need for All Team Members to Offer Kindness
Gary McGaghey is conscious that kindness can often slip through the net, especially when senior leaders are managing tough crises, perhaps balancing layoffs with market downturns, the integrations of demanding technologies, and other challenges. So, it’s no surprise that research suggests many employees don’t feel their employers care about their well-being. This is especially true in the context of the pandemic, in light of which fewer than half of the employees in a Gallup survey (45%) strongly agreed that their organization cared about their well-being.
But it isn’t only business leaders who can improve their working approaches by focusing on kindness. Any team member who is tackling stress, burnout, or other mental health conditions may find it more difficult than usual to work effectively with those around them. Short tempers, exposed nerves, and petty conflicts can all manifest as a lack of kindness in any team member.
Gary McGaghey reiterates that offering kindness in the workplace, whether as an employee or a manager, is a simple but effective way to help everyone, especially if other team members are going through difficult situations that others might not be aware of.
Examples of Leaders Who Prioritise Kindness
A leader’s role may come with challenges and pressures, but that doesn’t mean they must sacrifice compassion. Several leaders have positioned kindness at the forefront of their leadership strategies and driven success from there.
From human rights activist Desmond Tutu to modern-day executive Mary Barra, who has cultivated an employee-focused approach in her role as the General Motors CEO, these kinds of leaders demonstrate that kindness, encouragement, and genuine interest in employees’ well-being are not signs of weakness or signs of a leader who is relinquishing authority.
Instead, everyone can benefit if we can overcome the misconception that leaders should be tough and ruthless instead of compassionate. A good example of a leader who is breaking the mould is New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has responded to criticism that she isn’t aggressive or assertive enough by saying that she “rebels” against the accusation, refusing “to believe that you cannot be both co mpassionate and strong.”
The Science of Kindness
Although we often consider kindness an innate quality, something that we offer without thinking, it is possible to teach kindness. This is true in many contexts. For example, the University of Wisconsin’s Ritchie Davidson has compared practising kindness to weight training. He explains that we can develop our ‘compassion muscle’ by consciously responding to others with a desire to help.
Gary McGaghey explains that kindness isn’t only calming and healing but contagious too. When we’re kind to one person, that kindness tends to spread. On a scientific level, an act of kindness can help us release oxytocin — the hormone that regulates our emotions — and activate the part of the brain that feels pleasure.
By extension, Mayo Clinic suggests that by setting goals to be kinder to others, and by expressing genuine kindness, we can improve our health. Psychology Today has also emphasised that kind leaders can improve employee morale and retention while reducing absenteeism. By minimising employee stress, which is essential to cardiovascular health, leaders may even help employees live longer.
Gary McGaghey’s Seven Ways to Practise Kindness in the Workplace
Deciding to instil more kindness in your working approaches is one thing, but how can you do this effectively? Here, Gary McGaghey offers seven strategies that can help managers lead with kindness and compassion in their workplace interactions.
1. Check in With Employees
Your team is more likely to develop strong relationships with you if they know you’re willing to help. They need to know that you genuinely care about their well-being, so make yourself available to discuss their concerns with them, even if this means being around outside of working hours.
2. Listen to Your Employees
Making time to check in with employees isn’t enough, though. When engaging with these individuals, it’s important to listen carefully and avoid judgement. This doesn’t mean you need to respond to their concerns and have solutions lined up immediately. But it does mean you need to set up a space where employees feel they can tell you how they’re really doing. They might not want to go into detail straight away, but it’s knowing they can that’s important.
3. Ask Employees How You Can Help
Different employees will likely prefer that you help in different ways. While some may need you to validate their challenges, others may prefer you to provide them with mental health resources or set up a support group. Either way, they need to know that you care about helping them in the ways that best fit their needs.
4. Be Upfront About Your Strengths and Weaknesses
When a leader is clear about what they can do well and where somebody else is better positioned to help, employees know that they are being honest and authentic. Accepting your weaknesses will help you give others the space to showcase their skills and strengthen the wider team.
5. Reassure Your Employees That You Know They’re Doing Their Best
Budget cuts over the past couple of years have seen many employees work harder than ever to maximise outputs and minimize the risk of redundancy. While many people worry that their jobs are at risk and work extreme hours in an attempt to protect themselves, few receive recognition for their efforts. So, sincerely thank your team often to let them know that you appreciate them.
6. Ask Employees What They Think
Leaders might feel that their viewpoints are most important when making decisions. But delving into the perspectives of those who disagree with you can make them feel valued and allow you to broaden your perspectives. Try reframing your ‘yes but’ responses as ‘yes and’ responses. Pixar refers to this technique as ‘plussing,’ which aims to improve ideas without using judgemental language.
7. Conduct a Survey to Understand Your Employees’ Challenges
Running a survey can help you unpick trends across your organization to identify where the biggest needs for change are. For example, the MIT Sloan Management Review examined the results of surveys that various companies implemented to monitor remote workers’ mental health during the Covid-19 lockdowns. These surveys demonstrated that the pandemic tended to affect remote workers who lived alone differently than remote workers who lived with families and had young children.
To solve the problem areas that became apparent, upon realising that over 60% of its employees were feeling socially isolated, one company arranged daily virtual coffee breaks for these workers. Another company found that more than 60% of its employees were caring for children. They worked to overcome the exhaustion that these remote workers often faced by allowing these individuals to adjust their hours outside of their contracted hours to accommodate family needs.
Kindness: An Essential Skill and Personality Trait
Kindness is an essential skill and characteristic for everyone in a workplace, especially leaders. It’s up there with empathy and emotional intelligence and, with these traits, makes for the shaping of a happy, healthy work culture.
While kindness should be a priority for all leaders, Gary McGaghey particularly encourages senior managers in private equity companies to focus on integrating kindness into their working strategies. These individuals are often under immense pressure and may need to evaluate whether they’re offering employees the compassion and support they need.
Kindness can help leaders lay the foundations to build, shape, and lead highly effective teams. With kindness, they can help good team members grow into great team members. Lacing compassion into your leadership approach can help your team deliver their best performance and maintain a supportive environment at all levels.
About Gary McGaghey
Gary McGaghey is a seasoned CFO who has been a member of several senior management teams for private equity, listed, and privately owned companies. He is a chartered management accountant in the UK and a chartered accountant in South Africa. Currently, he is the CFO of the €1.3bn end-to-end marketing production services group Williams Lea Tag, which Advent International owns. Gary McGaghey has held this role since 2019. He carefully expands the value of the private equity company’s holdings, monitors and directs financial plans, and leads investment decision-making processes. He is also the non-executive director of the award-winning company Fitmedia UK, which develops children’s fitness analysis and testing solutions.