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Why kindness at work is a strength, not a weakness

Canva’s Global Head of People Jennie Rogerson shares actions we’ve taken to plant seeds of kindness across our People experience.

In some workplaces, kindness is still seen as a weakness. As if being kind means being “soft”, indecisive, or you’re not able to deliver great work or handle tough situations. In reality, if done well, kindness can be one of your greatest strengths.

It has been a turbulent few years for many people around the world. It feels like a day doesn’t go by without hearing something awful in the news or in the lives of those around us. Amidst turbulence, kindness can make a huge difference to others and ourselves, particularly in the workplace.

Kindness isn’t something that just makes us happy. It’s deeper than that – it’s good for us and for those around us. Kindness improves all kinds of wellbeing(opens in a new tab or window). At work, acts of kindness can improve relationships(opens in a new tab or window), and reduce stress and anxiety. Simply receiving a kudos message can improve our contentment(opens in a new tab or window), and over time, acts like these can work together to minimise burnout(opens in a new tab or window).

At Canva, kindness is woven into one of our core values: Be a Good Human, which guides our actions, decisions, and interactions with our team, community and product. At a recent All Hands, our COO Cliff Obrecht said: "We’re all just a bunch of humans trying to do our best with our own dreams, struggles and complexities," and we see it’s often the little kindnesses that people value the most while dealing with all of the normal day-to-day things we all handle.

A slide from a Season Opener keynote on the importance of kindness

A slide from a Season Opener keynote on the importance of kindness

At work, being kind doesn’t cost anything. Making kindness part of our everyday actions, communications and interactions with others, as well as ourselves, can have an outsized impact in spreading kindness, positivity and collaboration across a whole organisation.

A graphic by Liz + Mollie

A graphic by Liz + Mollie

While there’s much for us to learn and improve on, in this article, I’ll take you through some of the actions we’ve taken to plant seeds of kindness across our People experience in case it’s helpful to those looking for ideas on cultivating a culture of kindness at work.

Be intentionally inclusive

As the world becomes increasingly hybrid, inclusion is the bedrock of a kind environment where everyone, no matter how or where someone chooses to work, feels a sense of belonging.

Be considerate of global and remote teammates

Make it easy for people to contribute no matter where in the world they are. This can be as simple as recording meetings or sharing meeting notes with teammates in different timezones to make them feel a part of discussions and decision-making. When organising events, think global and hybrid-first. Stream in-person events, arrange local events at offices around the world at a similar time, share a recording, or send gifts or notes to remote teammates to ensure everyone feels included worldwide.

Celebrate people all year round

Don’t just hand out acts of kindness when it feels timely or advantageous to do. This goes for creating a culture of belonging too. Foster moments of celebration and discussion on peak celebration days and across the year, including events with internal and external speakers, workshops, and social events. For example, a group of Canvanauts recently hosted a community event at our Melbourne campus called Off-Season Queer Talks(opens in a new tab or window), which explored how to express queerness at work all year round.

A recent Off-Season Queer Talks event we hosted at our Melbourne campus
A recent Off-Season Queer Talks event we hosted at our Melbourne campus
A white room with a large blue, pink and yellow installation of an eye on the wall with black chairs and a green plant

Show kindness even when it’s not easy

Remember that we’re all just humans juggling deadlines and sometimes weathering storms outside our control. No one is perfect and mistakes can happen. Even when it may not feel easy, genuine acts of kindness, big or small, can be the difference between someone having a good or not-so-good day.

Assume positive intent

It can be easy to lean away when things get difficult or when you’re unsure how to support someone. Remember that everyone’s circumstances are different and what’s happening in someone’s personal life can have a huge impact on how they feel and behave. Assume positive intent, listen, and communicate empathetically. Offer a helping hand to someone, even when you’re busy, or simply send a kind note or emoji to someone if they’re having a rough time or an off day.

Get comfortable with uncomfortable conversations

Be open to having tougher, or even what you may consider taboo, conversations at work. This might be on things like imposter syndrome, wellbeing, or grief and loss. Make imposter syndrome a focus during things like onboarding (for example, we share this graph(opens in a new tab or window) with new team members) or performance reviews to normalise people’s feelings of self-doubt when faced with new challenges.

A graph we share with new team members during onboarding

A graph we share with new team members during onboarding

Despite many of us being directly impacted, grief and loss are also another one of life’s challenges that can feel difficult to talk about at work. We often don’t know what to say if it happens to us, or how to comfort someone experiencing loss, and so we resort to giving people space or saying nothing at all. Creating dedicated support or resources on how to support team members experiencing grief and loss(opens in a new tab or window) can go a long way in creating more human experiences to support each other. We’re sharing a template(opens in a new tab or window) based on our grief and loss support guide as a resource you are welcome to use in building your own guide.

Blue and purple background with two white boxes with words "Can be helpful to say" and "Might not be helpful" when it comes to supporting someone experiencing grief and loss

An excerpt from Canva’s Grief and Loss Support Guide (linked above)

Communicate with care

The way we write or speak to each other plays an enormous role in setting the tone for a kind environment.

Active listening

Listen actively to seek to understand what your team loves about your culture and the areas of opportunity they see. Put regular cadences in place, such as People Pulse surveys twice a year or asking for feedback after “peak moments” such as onboarding, learning and development cycles, or company-wide events.

Celebrate people’s impact

Recognise the impact of your team publicly and/or privately. Take the time to learn about how your team likes to be recognised — I learned on a recent trip that our team in Manila prefers to be given kudos privately versus on a public forum. Asking how people like recognition can be impactful. Share a kudos message with someone who’s gone above and beyond on a company #kudos Slack channel or share a personal thank you note from the heart.

Celebrate your team’s work and personal milestones (birthday, anniversary, engagement, citizenship) by sharing meaningful gifts, cards or decorating their desk. It’s often the little things that people remember the most, such as a funny video message or turning someone’s face into an emoji. We have a Recognition Hub where our team can go to find all kinds of simple and quirky ways to recognise and celebrate the accomplishments of those around us.

A peek inside Canva’s Recognition Hub

A peek inside Canva’s Recognition Hub

Use inclusive language

As language evolves, it can feel difficult to know which words to use to respect, support, or make those around you feel valued. That’s where we’ve found an Inclusive Language Guide can help to support your team in choosing terms that are most applicable, and learning more about the differences in language from a unified internal source that is ever-updated. It can also mean a lot to people when you create a space to identify pronouns through things like job applications, Zoom backgrounds, Slack, or your internal intranet.

Overall, I truly believe kindness is contagious, with one act of kindness having the power to inspire other acts of kindness, causing an ongoing cycle and taking on new forms of kindness along the way. Practicing kindness day-to-day places teams in the psychologically safe and inclusive environments they need to create, innovate and collaborate. Imagine if every single person you knew just did one kind thing today, what a wonderfully better and more inclusive world we’d live in.

This post was originally published on Nasdaq.com(opens in a new tab or window)