Could a 'kindness policy' replace your employee handbook?

Article 12 November 2021 Experience: Employment

#WorkingWorld

World Kindness Day is upon us and we ask whether the policies in your employee handbook could be replaced with a simple ‘kindness policy’ that sets clear expectations for how all employees should conduct themselves.

Such a kindness policy might look like this:

  • We welcome new joiners. We look forward to benefiting from their experience, knowledge and different perspectives. We don’t make snap judgements and we give them space to learn about our business. We welcome the challenges to our practices that they may bring.
  • We encourage all employees to raise issues when they happen and we try to resolve these issues quickly. We believe in taking responsibility for mistakes and apologising if things go wrong. We encourage forgiveness and try and give employees a second chance. We understand there are two sides to every story. We prefer to undertake training and development rather that to let matters fester. We know that serious issues require a proportionate response. We believe in keeping things confidential when this is helpful but we do not believe in covering things up.
  • We think one employee’s weak area may be another employee’s superpower. By bringing together diverse employees with different approaches and skills we think the business will benefit.
  • We believe in being open and transparent regarding employee performance. We prefer to train and give guidance. We support employees through difficult periods where we can. Appraisal feedback should not be a surprise.
  • We are kind to each other and do not say or do hurtful things. We understand that hurtful comments or actions may not be intentional, and that raising issues to allow them to be resolved can be helpful. We understand that different employees see things differently. We consider whether there may be background issues that cause behaviour that is unexpected or unacceptable.
  • We listen to people and understand their needs. We treat everyone fairly, but in doing so recognise that everyone is an individual and that different needs must sometimes be met in different ways.
  • If you are away from work for any reason for a period of time, we will communicate with you about what is happening in the office. We will try to do this in a way that suits you, whether regularly or only about key developments, and by email or other means as you prefer.
  • We are thoughtful decision makers. We think about how others may feel about a decision we have taken. We think about how best to communicate a decision. We try to achieve consistency so that employees know what to expect. We reflect on decisions taken and whether we can do better next time.
  • If we have to part ways, we will where possible meet face to face to discuss this. We will try to agree how any departure will be communicated to colleagues and business contacts.

Employment handbooks can be very useful documents. Diligent employees will review them carefully and do exactly what is expected of them. Less diligent employees will have extracts of the handbook quoted to them if they fall short of expectations. While a kindness policy does not replace a detailed shared parental leave policy, or indeed guidance on corporate gifts, it could be a useful lens through which to view how we conduct the employment relationship.

Being a kind employer is not about making large payments or failing to tackle difficult issues. It is about addressing what needs to be addressed in a thoughtful, proportionate and considerate way.

The pandemic has forced us into new ways of working. Employees not only want well paid and interesting work but need to feel valued. A kindness policy may be a good starting point to demonstrate that culture. However, as with any handbook policy, empty words do a lot of damage: here management will need to lead by example.