The psychology of kindness: a catalyst for positive change
The Covid-19 pandemic transformed many people’s relationship with, and expectations of, work.
No longer happy to accept the status quo of long commutes, presenteeism and burnout, people resigned in their droves, illustrating the correlation between employee wellbeing and organisational performance.
In the field of psychology, kindness and its impact on wellbeing has been gaining more and more attention in recent years and this rich area of research forms the focus of our online Psychology of Kindness and Wellbeing at Work PGCert.
In this blog, we’ll delve into this fascinating trait, virtue and behaviour, exploring its transformative power in work contexts, and highlighting the ways our course can help you to foster a kind and positive working culture within your own organisation.
What is the psychology of kindness?
Let’s start with a definition of kindness itself.
Speaking on The Kindness Test podcast, Sussex professor, Dr Robin Banerjee, describes kindness as ‘a behaviour that is intended to benefit other people’. However, he caveats that there are many complexities around the term.
The psychology of kindness is concerned with these very complexities, including:
- the scale of kindness as a trait, from passive acts like waiting patiently for someone, to more proactive acts like giving blood or volunteering
- the relationship between kindness and ‘pro-social’ behaviours like supporting, helping, and sharing
- the various effects of kindness on both the giver and the receiver
- the motivations and deterrents of kindness i.e., why do we act kindly and what factors inhibit kindness?
This scientific study of kindness integrates and is inspired by the theory underpinning positive psychology. In contrast to clinical psychology which focuses on mental illness, positive psychology focuses on wellbeing and the nurturing of positive mental states and behaviours.
In our online Psychology of Kindness PGCert course, we explore positive psychology in greater depth, as well as the vast and complex concept of kindness.
What are the benefits of kindness?
Put simply, being kind promotes wellbeing and good mental health.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as ‘a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.’
On an individual level, there’s substantial evidence that engaging in kind acts and pro-social behaviours can:
- boost the giver’s happiness, life satisfaction and positive affect
- nurture a greater sense of purpose and meaning in life
- reduce the risk of some mental illnesses like depression
- reduce the risk of some physical illnesses including cardiovascular disease.
What are the benefits of kindness at work?
Thanks to increased interest in kindness in the field of positive organisational psychology, we have a wealth of research that affirms the benefits of kindness at work and its impact on organisational performance.
Studies show that pro-social behaviours and motivations have been linked to:
- increased effort, productivity and persistence
- higher engagement
- higher staff retention
- reduced burnout and sickness absence
- higher levels of creativity
- increased helping behaviours.
On our online Psychology of Kindness PGCert, students learn about kindness in different relationships and contexts at work, and the benefits of each. For example:
- the role kindness plays in strengthening peer relationships and the resulting impact work friendships have on productivity and engagement
- the increased effectiveness of leaders who exhibit warmth and kindness (a 2014 study by Zenger and Folkman found that unkind leaders have a one in 2,000 chance of being effective).
Of course, the rapid shift to remote and hybrid working across many organisations – initially necessitated by Covid-19 lockdowns – has made relationship building significantly harder and poses added risks to employees’ mental health as they grapple with the likes of video conferencing fatigue and increased feelings of isolation.
For this reason, organisations must take steps to fully understand the challenges hybrid and remote employees face and develop wellbeing strategies and kindness interventions fit for these circumstances.
How is Sussex leading the way in the study of kindness?
The Sussex Centre for Research on Kindness (SCRK) was launched by Professor Robin Banerjee, Head of the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex and one of the academics offering mentorship on our online PGCert course.
The SCRK is made up of an interdisciplinary network of academics with the shared aims of exploring, investigating, and illuminating kindness and its impacts on people and communities.
The work of SCRK fits within two main themes:
- research intended to understand the nature and impact of kindness
- research on specific kindness interventions designed to promote wellbeing.
One of the centre’s largest and most high-profile research projects, The Kindness Test, was carried out in partnership with BBC Radio 4 with the aim of learning more about how people’s attitudes and experiences might vary across different groups, and how experiences of kindness might relate to health, well-being, and other social and psychological experiences. Over 60,000 people from around the world participated in the project, making it the largest ever psychological study conducted on kindness.
Learn more about the findings in Radio 4’s latest series The Anatomy of Kindness.
What will I learn on the Psychology of Kindness and Wellbeing at Work course?
Launched in 2021, our Psychology of Kindness and Wellbeing at Work PGCert is the first postgraduate course of its kind in the world.
This pioneering programme has been specifically designed for professionals responsible for staff wellbeing, such as public sector workers, or those looking to raise awareness of wellbeing to bring about organisational change, e.g., HR and training staff.
Developed by academics from Sussex’s School of Psychology and drawing on the expertise of the SCRK, the curriculum will develop your theoretical understanding of both kindness and wellbeing while ensuring you develop the practical skills and contemporary insights needed to make an impact in your role right away.
Throughout our eight-month online course, you’ll learn about:
- conceptual perspectives on kindness and wellbeing
- various methods for measuring kindness and wellbeing
- the importance of kindness in teams and leadership as well as how to navigate the challenges posed by the future world of work including increased hybrid and remote working
- interventions to promote kindness and wellbeing.
Ready to lead transformational change in your workplace?
Learn more about our online, part-time Psychology of Kindness and Wellbeing at Work PGCert on the course page and register your interest via the form to speak with an advisor.