Once ‘random acts of kindness’ were spontaneous, unplanned and unexpected. Now they have their own website and their very own ‘day’. They are even branded as RAKs. RAKs are on trend in 2017 emphasising the idea that by doing someone a good deed we can make them happy and boost our own sense of wellbeing. RAKs make the world a better place.
It might be as simple as giving someone a smile, or carrying their shopping, or picking them up from a fall, or even paying their bill. What unites them is the spontaneity and thoughtfulness of the act, with no strings attached.
In fact, proponents of the benefits that result from being kind or experiencing acts of kindness, have used the results of a number of studies (e.g. a survey by Harvard Business School and a study in Clinical Psychological Science) to suggest that some of these benefits might include:
- happiness – making other people happy boosts our own sense of happiness;
- greater self-confidence: – giving makes us feel better as people;
- energy – doing one good thing will make us want to do more;
- longer life – giving to others slows the ageing process;
- more pleasure – pleasure begets pleasure.
The natural feel good chemicals of serotonin and oxytocin (the love hormone) are made in the body, they say, when kindness is shared.
And the RAK Foundation suggests that carrying out kind acts will:
- Reduce depression: Thinking about helping other people stops us worrying about ourselves.
- Reduce pain: Helping releases endorphins, which are natural painkillers.
- Reduce isolation: Helping others encourages human contact.
- Reduce blood pressure.
- Reduce anxiety: Good actions can lift mood and decrease social avoidance.
- Reduce stress: Kind people have 23 percent less cortisol (the stress hormone) and age more slowly.
The growing popularity of ideas like RAKs, mindfulness and wellbeing are a reflection of our greater understanding of the stress and damage to mental health that the stresses of modern living and working can bring. Government policy is increasingly concerned not just with the financial wellbeing of the population, but also the mental health of workers. And modern working has changed to become more creative, demanding and stressful and workers are no longer just concerned with financial security but job satisfaction, career progression and a good working environment.
There is increasing interest in the link between workers’ wellbeing and productivity. A company where employee health and wellbeing are taken seriously will have lower rates of sickness absence and presenteeism (where workers turn up for work but are actually too unwell to work effectively), and higher productivity. In fact, while sickness absence due to physical injuries or accidents at work is falling, absence due to mental illness (including depression, anxiety and stress) is on the increase.
An estimated 11.7 million working days were lost to stress, depression and anxiety in 2015/6 and stress accounted for 45 percent of all days lost to sickness absence. In 2014 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimated the cost of mental illness to the UK economy – including benefit payments and NHS costs – at £70bn.
In light of these figures, encouraging random acts of kindness appears to be a good thing for staff and managers alike.
RAKs in the workplace
Embracing the notion of RAKs in the workplace could be a good way of:
- helping workers to get to know each other;
- boosting morale;
- reducing tension and easing conflict;
- laying the foundation for a greater sense of community and cooperation in the future.
Companies and organisations will reap the benefit of nurturing a happy group of staff and may well see lower sickness rates, higher productivity and lower staff turnover. These ideas may help:
- Bake a cake and bring it into the office – nothing speaks of love like a homemade cake.
- Compliment a colleague on their appearance – notice when they have had a new haircut or bought a new pair of shoes.
- Reward good work and celebrate successes with your team (praise, gifts or bonuses) – although often a simple ‘well done’ in recognition of good work can be worth more than a fiscal reward.
- Chat to new staff, listen to their concerns and make them feel welcome. Managers should create a culture of listening and support and take steps to ease the stress on individuals.
- Treat staff to ice creams on a hot day or takeaway food if they are working late on an important deadline.
- Organise and pay for a team trip to boost morale and reward hard work.
- Treat customers to unexpected gifts, discounts or free delivery – the goodwill is likely to boost your sales.
Fit for Work offers free, online work-related health advice and guidance to anyone looking for advice and support about an existing case of sickness absence, or about issues that may result in sickness absence. Employed people who have been off work due to illness for four weeks or more can be referred for a telephone assessment with a Fit for Work case manager in order to identify all the obstacles preventing the person from returning to work. Visit the Fit for Work website or call the free telephone advice line on 0800 032 6235 (English) or 0800 032 6233 (Welsh). There is a separate service running in Scotland (0800 019 2211).