Kindness at work is never a weakness

Kindness at work is never a weakness

As mental health, wellbeing and a sense of belonging become priorities for new generations of employees, Spotify’s UK sales chief delves into the power of leading teams with kindness.

When I started my career working at a corporate investment bank, I felt like I didn’t belong; I was wearing the wrong shirt, my suit wasn’t good enough, I had brown shoes instead of black ones, my tie had the wrong knot. I knew I stood out.

These were all social cues that indicated I wasn’t from the “right” background. But they were amplified by a company culture that didn’t care about creating a welcoming environment. The result was that I felt uncomfortable at work and, looking back, I probably didn’t perform to my best abilities as a result.

This example might seem a little old-fashioned in 2024. After all, when was the last time you met with someone wearing a tie? But there are parallels in the media and advertising industry today, where perhaps wearing certain trainers or a particular clothing brand allows others to make judgements.

As leaders, it’s important we prioritise creating inclusive teams where people feel a sense of belonging. Clearly, this cannot happen without building diversity in the workplace as a foundation, but it’s also about building a culture of kindness.

This is of course the right thing to do. But creating a culture of kindness is also business-critical for any modern organisation.

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Attracting and retaining talent

In a talent market where high turnover is common, the success of an organisation is linked to its ability to attract and keep the best people.

Research shows that most people stay in a job long term because they have a close friend on their team. And for Gen Z (who by 2025 will comprise 27% of employees), organisational culture is a fundamental value.

According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index annual report, 51% of Gen Z are more likely to prioritise health and wellbeing over work. They also list positive culture, mental health, wellbeing benefits and a sense of purpose as their top four priorities in a job search. In our own Culture Next report, we have seen a 92% year-on-year increase in health and fitness podcast listening among Gen Z.

So it’s clear that mental health, balance and a progressive culture are non-negotiables for the next generation of employees. As leaders, we need to create diverse organisations with a positive culture where people feel respected, appreciated and valued.

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A culture of kindness

It starts with kindness as a principle that informs all decisions and behaviours in the workplace.

It’s important to clarify that kindness is never a form of weakness. I used to see it as such when I was starting out, particularly when feeling judged or looked down on, but over time I’ve realised how much more effective we can be when we’re kind to one another.

People sometimes associate being kind with the avoidance of hard decisions. That’s simply not true. At its heart, kindness means keeping in mind how your decisions have an impact on colleagues and ensuring they are always treated fairly and empathetically.

This doesn’t mean you can never share constructive feedback. This is more a call-out that it’s important to take the time to ensure you’re giving honest feedback in a sensitive, clear and constructive way, with a motivating manner on how we can all improve to reach our goals.

Your team should also feel empowered to give you feedback, as it’s a two-way relationship. I always try to create space for this to ensure my team feels heard and any concerns can be quickly addressed.

It can be difficult to consistently apply this, especially in a world that is so fast-paced, when people are overworked, stressed and tired. But empathetic leaders understand that everyone has unique skills and strengths, and that working together leads to better outcomes.

Thinking like a band

At Spotify, we like to think of ourselves as a band. Like a band, we need to be in sync and depend on each other to create the best outcome possible. This starts with listening and communicating.

In an internal survey, we found that the UK team wanted to spend more time with each other, so we set up a Good Vibes committee that organises activities such as sports days, board games and other activities that didn’t always creep into the evening and involve alcohol.

We’ve found that the more colleagues get to know each other, the more likely they are to treat each other in an inclusive, respectful way.

Of course, it’s not just about socialising. A culture of kindness must be underpinned by solid policies and processes. If people are not treated fairly, it’s very difficult to build a truly positive environment.

But all of us — whether we are leaders or members of the team — can do our bit to create the culture of kindness we want to find at work. Where every colleague feels that they belong, valued for the work they do and respected for the person they are.

We don’t have to burn out at work — we can burn brightly.

Ed Couchman is head of sales, UK and Northern Europe, at Spotify

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