Why being kind at work could be the key to career success

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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As part of Stylist’s Kindfulness Project, we are encouraging our readers to be more compassionate – both to themselves and others. Here, a careers expert explains why kindness does have a place in the office - and how it could be a surprising tool for success.

Anyone who has ever watched The Devil Wears Prada, House of Cards or The Apprentice would be forgiven for thinking there is only one way to get ahead at work: by ruthlessly trampling over the competition, until you make it right to the top.

And anyone who has ever worked in an office, or a team of people, is likely to have seen someone use that exact same strategy to accelerate their career – and, in most instances, that strategy will have been successful.

Thankfully, though, change is afoot, and we’re finally shifting away from the pattern of alpha-dominated workspaces that have a linear pattern of progress. You need only look at Mary Portas’ Work Like A Woman initiative for evidence of this.

“I realised that I’d started a whole agency around what I’d been taught since leaving college and I thought, what if I do this differently?,” Portas said at Stylist Live. “What if I use all the values I hold dearly as a woman, a wife, a mother and a human, and shift the way it works? So I did.”

Mary Portas’ Work Like A Woman initiative is bringing kindness to the workplace

Portas introduced a number of initiatives into her agency, such as a ‘sunshine community’ that gives the most junior members of the team the opportunity to act as MD for the day. Essentially, she brought a bit of kindness into the way her team works – and while kindness might not sound like the most obvious strategy for getting ahead in your career, there’s certainly a quiet strength to be found in it.

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Kindness is also an approach being advocated by career coaches.

“Kindness doesn’t have the same sexiness that achievement has, but it nourishes both the giver and the receiver,” Evelyn Cotter, from SEVEN coaching, tells

“Sadly, I think women are conditioned to think that kindness is seen as a weakness. In the alpha-dominated world, kindness has not historically been rewarded. Instead, success has been about results, pace, and gain.

“But thankfully, we’re moving into a new age now, where being present, meditating and valuing both self-care and emotional intelligence are becoming the norm. Kindness is a big part of that… I honestly feel that if kindness is authentic, you can’t lose.”

kindness be kind career advice

“If kindness is authentic, you can’t lose.”

Kindness in the workplace can take many forms – it can be the simple act of getting up to make a tea round, or encompass something bigger, such as checking in with a colleague to make sure they aren’t struggling with their workload. Even just letting a colleague know that you empathise with their situation can be helpful.

“It’s not about being kind to look good, it’s about being kind because it feels good,” says Cotter. “Kindness should feel like something you want to do intrinsically.”

“Think how much of a difference a simple gesture, such as saying, ‘I see you’re in a difficult situation and I can relate to how hard that must be for you’, could make,” she adds.

“Most people [at work] don’t feel heard, they don’t feel seen, and the challenges and obstacles they face don’t feel acknowledged. So doing that could be the biggest gift you give to any person, and what does it cost? Just a quick thought and a slight change in how we operate, but not much.”

“Kindness should feel like something you want to do intrinsically”

Of course, kindness in the workplace isn’t just about being kind to our colleagues; it’s also about being kind to ourselves. In our digital age we are constantly bombarded with other people’s filtered highlight reels of success (an action recently coined as “hustle porn” by Alexis Ohanian) and this can make our own careers feel lacking in comparison. But rather than beating ourselves up for not staying up until 2am working on a book proposal, or spending our evenings attending back-to-back networking events, we need to change our internal narratives to become more accepting – and much kinder.

“Being kind starts with ourselves,” Cotter points out. “A great byproduct of being more kind to ourselves is that we feel more empathy towards others. If our emotional needs are met, we naturally have more to give. And just a little bit of compassion could transform a situation, and change how the other person reacts, as well.”

So how can we put this into practise and be kinder at work?

“Often it’s about taking a step back, and taking a holistic view of a situation, a person, or an action,” Cotter advises. “If you were to use compassion and empathy, how might you deal differently with this person, and how might they react differently? Have you ever been in a similar situation, and what was going on for you at that time? There’s always more to the story.

“Try it and you might just be amazed at the difference.”

Images: Unsplash, Getty