Monday, June 23, 2014

Try a little kindness for a safer workplace

There have been much emphasis and focus on the importance of safety in the workplace. A safe working environment not only protects employees, but also increases productivity when workers are happy and healthy. A strong WHS culture means that there is lower frequency of accidents and injuries, reducing interruptions, which allows the company to complete their projects on time. Research from The Academy of Management Perspectives has shown that employee well-being has a significant impact on the performance and survival of organisations by affecting costs related to illness and healthcare, absenteeism, turnover and discretionary effort.

We are on the right track to a safer working environment in Singapore having introduced safety regulations, awards and training programmes in recent years. However, transformation of an organisation’s culture has to happen from the inside out rather than the outside in. Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Transforming an organization effectively to create a safety culture from within begins with the transformation of individuals. Research from Applied Futures and Cultural Dynamics, which has been conducted for more than 30 years, suggests that the best way to change individual and group behaviour is through values inculcation. Here’s where kindness comes into the picture.
Kindness expresses itself when we practise consideration, respect and compassion for the people around us. Ensuring safety is kindness in action. When we look out for another colleague, we are showing kindness to them by protecting their lives, and also the lives of their loved ones. When employers treat their workers with fairness and respect, they do not overwork or put them in dangerous situations, ensuring their well-being and safety.

Here are three ways how kindness can contribute to a safer workplace.

Firstly, the essence of kindness is to be other-centered. Kindness is defined as “any voluntary action with an unselfish intention to benefit others that comes from the heart, and does not expect anything in return.” It is about caring for the interests of others and not merely oneself. In today’s fast-paced and competitive society, many of us often fail to exercise kindness and recognize others' acts of kindness at work. However, when we think about others, we will look out for one another and remind each other to be safe. With such an attitude, we are also less likely to be agitated and make hasty decisions that could lead co-workers to be caught in risky situations.

Look out for one another

Kindness in the workplace also creates greater synergy and lasting friendship within the team. Martin Luther King once said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” We spend more than half our waking hours in our workplace and perhaps even see our colleagues more than our families. Therefore, it is important to have bonds of friendship to support each other through the pressures of work, and make the workplace more pleasant and caring. We can start by greeting and smiling at colleagues in common spaces. After a period of time, this can transform into longer conversations and spark a friendship. Too often we underestimate the power of a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or a helping hand, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. At the Singapore Kindness Movement, we believe in synergy, which is about teamwork. We are convinced that Together Each Achieves More (TEAM). Though we have sectors and each has a primary focus, we give permission to call on one another to help in our respective sectors when there is a need.

Together Each Achieves More (TEAM)

Lastly, being kind to others has profound and measurable physical and mental benefits. Studies have shown that when we do a kind act, our body stimulates certain chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins that reduce stress. Dopamine is associated with positive thinking and endorphins are known as our body’s natural painkilling heroine. Physically, the body also produces oxytocin, which dilates our blood vessels and results in a reduction of blood pressure. The hustle and bustle of the Singaporean lifestyle has led us to feel stressed out most of the time. Being kind calms our mind and helps us to think more clearly when we are stressed or anxious. A clear mind is extremely important in ensuring that decisions made in the workplace are safe for workers to carry out.

Kindness Chemicals

Kindness is a simple concept to practice. Perhaps it is too simple, one might think, to provide a solution to the complex challenges we face in the workplace. Creating a kind, healthy and safe workplace starts with just a “MITE” of effort by ordinary Singaporeans to make a difference through kind acts of their own:

Model kindness in our speech and actions
Inspire others who notice it
Transmit kindness by spreading the message
Empower others when we celebrate acts of kindness

Challenge yourself to start, show and share kindness at work, and see what difference it makes!

First published in Safety Matters Issue 1/2014, a publication of the Singapore Institution of Safety Officers.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Words, Words, Words…Watch Your Words

Recently, my friend, a well-known socio-political commentator posted on her Facebook a verse from the good book. “My Dear brothers, take note of this: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” She added, “I really ought to remember this.”

Another friend asked, “Why only brothers?” I replied, “because 'brothers' is made up of Bro + Others”.

Jokes aside, it reminds me of Shakespeare, who was fascinated by the power and the frailty of words. This is so true with the spoken word. “Words are like wind”, he wrote. But we also know that it can breathe life into rousing oratory or kill the best of us with bitter curses.

Last night my friends brought my wife and me to a Teochew restaurant for dinner. While waiting for a table, I chanced upon this framed verses in Chinese. I was fascinated by the trove of Chinese wisdom in those words. 

Like my friend, I really ought to remember this. It will help me to be more gracious not only in deeds but also in the way I speak about matters.

Dr. William Wan
9 June 2014.