With the influx of stress and anxiety brought on by the critical global challenges of 2020 — including the COVID-19 pandemic, the fight for racial justice, and a growing sense of economic uncertainty — psychological distress is on the rise.
Ninety percent of today’s workforce is impacted by mental health challenges. Even before the crisis hit, a study by SAP, Qualtrics, and Mind Share Partners, published in the Harvard Business Review, found that close to 50 percent of millennials and 75 percent of Gen Zers have left jobs for mental health reasons.
The current state of the world and its adverse impact on mental health poses an even greater risk to employee well-being and performance. A recent study conducted by SAP, Qualtrics, and Thrive Global found that more than 70 percent of employees feel less productive and over 85 percent expect increased distraction to negatively impact their work. Companies cannot afford to ignore these sentiments.
As work from anywhere becomes the norm and digital turns into the new social, leaders must find new ways to proactively nurture positive human connections and social interactions among co-workers. Previously, when physical gatherings were not quite as threatening, these types of exchanges tended to occur spontaneously.
As an optimist, I believe that there is a silver lining to the existential, historic hardships we all face. There is a generational opportunity to create a better future by prioritizing a new style of leadership, one that fosters and creates a culture of kindness in the workplace to safeguard against declining mental health.
It has already been scientifically proven that kindness is contagious. What if we used the idea of kindness as a contagion in a positive way to fight against the negative physical and mental contagion caused by the virus?
How Kindness Fosters Workforce Happiness
Kindness is associated with friendliness, generosity, compassion, and benevolence. Yet these gentle words fail to recognize the strength and interpersonal skills of those who practice kindness toward others and themselves. Kindness is the superhuman capability we all have. It is free, easily accessible, and unlimited. Kindness does not always mean being in service of others; it can also mean being kind to yourself. Even a simple, small act of kindness has the exponential power to change the world and significantly improve our emotional and physical well-being.
To reinforce our commitment and dedication to leading with kindness, SAP is participating in the third annual #BeKind21 campaign, hosted by SAP Purpose Network partner, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. The campaign, which runs from September 1 to 21, invites academic, corporate, and non-profit organizations, as well as individuals, to participate in daily acts of kindness and contribute toward building a kinder, braver, more just world.
By engaging in an intentional act of kindness every day for 21 days, the #BeKind21 campaign encourages participants to make kindness a habit, commit to compassion, and foster genuine connection. It empowers people to treat kindness as a verb and take conscious action to uplift the spirits of those around them.
Throughout the campaign, we will share our calendar with 21 daily suggestions for how to practice kindness. Have a virtual lunch date with a friend, get someone to laugh out loud, or send a kind note to a loved one. Start your day by journaling three things that you are grateful for. Take time for yourself and read an inspiring article or some pages from your favorite book. Treat yourself to some downtime with a meditation experience. Play an active role in expressing compassion for yourself and others.
These acts of kindness will live on and will inspire others to do the same.
At SAP, we are committed to building a workplace where employees can bring their whole selves to work. As leaders, we can model transparency and treat vulnerability as a strength. Starting a meeting by simply asking how colleagues are doing or thanking colleagues for their work creates a sense of connection, particularly in a virtual workplace, where it is easy to feel distant. By sharing our own challenges, we can open the door for others to share their mental health concerns and provide a path toward accessing resources to address them.
Technology can be an ally in augmenting culture and making it more tangible. One such example is a new application developed to facilitate human interaction and alleviate loneliness and isolation felt by many SAP employees. The in-house app connects remote workers via video chat for virtual lunch dates and hosted a virtual barbeque for 1,700 employees complete with a butcher, recipes, and step-by-step instructions. Virtual fireside chats, online wine tastings, and film screenings have also provided opportunities for employees to connect. These types of activities can significantly improve the health and well-being of employees and provide a space to practice kindness and to osupport fellow colleagues.
Join us in destigmatizing mental health and spreading the contagion of kindness in the workplace and the world, starting with the people we interact with every day.
Pledge to #BeKind21.
Vivek Bapat is the senior vice president and head of Purpose and Brand Experience at SAP.