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Tracy Douthwaite

Happy Life

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Why creating a culture of kindness and gratitude is more important than a discounted gym membership


We have all seen health and wellbeing programmes that just tick a box and do the same old thing, such as money off gym membership, EAP programmes and maybe an onsite massage. But there is so much more workplaces could do to have a real benefit for employees.

Happy, engaged employees perform better and have less sickness, which obviously benefits your business. Mental ill health costs UK employers an estimated £34.9 billion each year – the equivalent of £1,300 for every employee in the UK workforce. Broken down, that’s £10.6 billion in sickness absence, £21.2 billion in reduced productivity and £3.1 billion in replacing staff who leave their jobs for mental health-related reasons.

I work with many companies and schools focusing on wellbeing, happiness and mental health awareness. Three areas I would like to explore here are kindness, gratitude and wellbeing action plans (WAPS). All are easy to implement with low costs and have a profound effect on employee morale and company culture.

Leaders are creating a barrier to workplace kindness and gratitude

I find it amazing how rarely kindness and gratitude are mentioned in the workplace. This is not just about praise or thanks for achieving a company goal, but managers, peers and HR noticing or appreciating the actions of coworkers and sharing this appreciation to promote a company culture of positivity.   

Rather than success fuelling happiness, happiness fuels success.

HR consultants Towers Perrin carried out a study with more than 85,000 people in 16 countries and found that while many people are keen to contribute more at work, the behaviour of their managers and culture of their organisations is actively discouraging them from doing so, with leaders putting obstacles in their way. We need to start opening up opportunities for employees.

Kindness and gratitude pays double-dividends. The ‘giver’ as well as the person who’s on the receiving end benefits profoundly. According to Action for Happiness, people who practice kindness and gratitude experience greater levels of happiness and life satisfaction. Rather than success fuelling happiness, happiness fuels success.

Ideas to introduce kindness and gratitude

Our emotions affect our long-term wellbeing. Experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio with negative ones leads to a tipping point beyond which we naturally become more resilient to adversity and better able to achieve things. Increasing gratitude in the workplace will improve output and staff engagement. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Introduce a gratitude wall or tree to encourage employees and managers to share small appreciations, either anonymously or named, in the staff room, canteen, or anywhere they are seen regularly

  • Start meetings with everyone expressing gratitude to a colleague or for some small positive change that has happened that week at work

  • Use awareness days to highlight kindness and gratitude e.g. World kindness Day on 13th November 2018

  • Set up ‘kindness bingo’ to encourage small acts, such as saying hello in a lift or making a coffee for a busy colleague, and give out prizes or recognition for those who fill their page

  • Ensure you thank all involved in a project, including those who normally get missed. Where would you be without the receptionist or delivery driver?!

  • Ensure daily acts of kindness are part of your workplace culture, but also set aside special days to focus on external kindness. For example, you could ask staff to bring food to donate to your local foodbank

For lots more ideas visit:

Support the change with mindfulness

Mindfulness increases our ability to focus on the present moment, become thankful and notice the small moments in life. Introducing mindfulness into the workplace will improve attention, reduce stress and increase gratitude. Meetings could include a ten minute mindfulness session or you could offer it in Lunch breaks. There are many apps available including headspace, which you could offer as part of yearly perks.

By enabling staff to embody the values and vision of the business, and feel connected and valued by peers and managers, you will increase staff retention, motivation and reduce sickness.

Companies can also encourage wellbeing champions from all levels and departments to support, plan and encourage participation in activities. Gaining input from employees will increase engagement and ensure all voices are heard, leading to improved results.

Intriducing wellbeing action plans (WAPs)

My final positive practical option for supporting employees is a WAP, devised by Mind. The WAP is inspired by Mary Ellen Copeland’s Wellness Recovery Action Plan® (WRAP®): an evidence-based system used worldwide by people to manage their mental health.

WAPs can help employees to actively support their own mental health by reflecting on the causes of stress and poor mental health, and by taking ownership of practical steps to help address these triggers.

Managers should work together with employees to develop a personal action plan to proactively manage their mental health. It also facilitates open dialogue with managers – leading to practical, agreed steps that can form the basis for regular monitoring and review.

A WAP can also include physical as well as mental health as the two influence each other.

What have you got to lose?

By using some of the tools above to make small, lost-cost changes you will improve staff engagement, wellbeing and happiness. And by enabling staff to embody the values and vision of the business, and feel connected and valued by peers and managers, you will increase staff retention, motivation and reduce sickness.

Good luck and enjoy!

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