Kindness in Business Today

I wrote about kindness a short while ago, now kindness is not widely regarded as a matter for serious, corporate businesses. I found an interesting article on the Forbes website which discussed this matter at length. The media has often shown business leaders as cold, domineering and ultra-competitive. This makes me think of an image of Wall Street meets the Apprentice. Winning at all costs and knocking down others on the way is seen as the best way to succeed in the business arena. This seems a very out-of- touch way to run a business in 2020, but alas the “tough guy” archetype is still alive and strong. Corporate language is indeed still fighting talk. All around us there are examples of businesses that behave in ways that might reasonably be classed as unkind and unacceptable in any other place.

However, there may now be a move towards change. According to a recent Guardian article, a poll carried out for the strategy consultancy Britain Thinks revealed that just one person in eight wants life in the U.K. to return to “exactly as it was before” when the coronavirus pandemic is finally over. The article explains that there is a widespread appetite for a kinder society that “allows workers more time off with family and friends, cares about the environment, and ensures high levels of employment.”

The act of being considerate, supportive and responsive to the needs of others is of huge importance. Kindness should never be mistaken for weakness, in fact, it is a strength.

Personally, I have always tried to work for companies that place a high value on treating their staff in a fair manner and who realize the importance of both the physical and mental health of their workers and their families and loved ones. My first role in my career was with an upmarket department store chain, my younger self (and my older self too) was very impressed that one of the company directors when visiting the store took time to talk to every member of staff, about their families, studies, interests or even holidays. The fact that an upper management member took the time to do this, despite having a challenging role, made everyone feel valued.

Kindness begins (or ends) with these everyday interactions. Regardless of our seniority, each of us makes moment-by-moment choices about how kind to be to those around us. For better or worse, these choices affect how the business community functions. Bad behaviour, like bullying, rudeness or aggression, can filter from the top of a business, right down to the bottom of the chain. Not making for a productive or very pleasant work place. The effects of work place bullying should not be underestimated and surely companies do owe their workforce a duty of care. Which should include now having to deal with the additional stress caused my work colleagues who feel that they have no reason to consider others. Team work can make a business so much stronger.

What exactly does kindness at work involve? Phil Lewis from Corporate Punk, talks about embracing the five ‘C’s, which his practice uses as a foundation for consulting, coaching and training leaders in kindness as a pillar of effective leadership. These are:

Clarity. In many places of work, people are unclear about what leaders need from them in terms of responsibilities, objectives, targets and boundaries etc.

Candour. Human beings are not wired to thrive in conditions of ambiguity. This means communicating with openness, directness and honesty, particularly during periods of change.

Compassion. Many of us have complex lives, with any number of personal and professional problems to manage, both large and small. Failing to acknowledge this is not only unkind at a human level, it is also bad for business.

Courage. This is the difficult business of offering support to others and giving them what they need, especially when what they need is not what they want.

Consistency. “Do as I say, not as I do” is still the implicit mantra of too many leaders. Acting in ways that are consistent with what you expect of others and doing so all day, every day is kind to you and to them.

What is an unkind company? I would consider it to be one where people are in the everyday habit of prioritising their own needs over others in a way that undermines the team. People will not commit to workplaces that make no effort to understand and accommodate their individual circumstances and needs. And a lack of commitment tends to effect productivity and innovation, as well as causing a higher staff turnover.

So, by making a contribution to building a kinder work environment it helps both the staff and the company, to be more successful on many levels, including happiness and well-being. 

Kindness has a true value and the small things matter, a card on someone’s birthday, a genuine thank-you, is all it can take. To care about others and in turn for others to care about you is such a wonderful thing.

100 Years of Agatha Christie Writer, Traveller, Surfer and Archaeologist

Agatha Christie remains, the best-selling novelist of all time, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. She is best known for her sixty-six detective novels and fourteen short story collections but produced six more as Mary Westmacott and two under the name Christie Mallowan. The Mousetrap is the world’s longest-running play. Her books have sold over a billion copies in the English language and a billion in translation. (She is the most world-wide translated writer)

To cover both her career and personal life in full, I would be blogging for quite some time, so this is a short, compact history, which I am sure I will add to at a later date.

2020 marks 100 years since the publication of Agatha Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which introduced Hercule Poirot. It was created in 1916 but not published until February 1920, when it was serialised in 18 parts in The Weekly Times (part of The Times) Agatha Christie came up with the idea for the novel whilst working in a dispensary during WWI.

I began considering what kind of a detective story I could write. Since I was surrounded by poisons, perhaps it was natural that death by poisoning should be the method I selected. I settled on one fact which seemed to me to have possibilities. I toyed with the idea, liked it, and finally accepted it. Then I went on to the dramatis personae. Who should be poisoned? Who would poison him or her? When? Where? How? Why? And all the rest of it.  

Agatha Christie

Miss Marple first came into being in 1927 in The Tuesday Night Club, a short story pulled together into the collection The Thirteen Problems. It was first published in the December 1927 issue of Royal Magazine. Inspired by her maternal grandmother and her friends, Agatha Christie never expected Miss Marple to rival Poirot in the public’s affections but since the publication of The Murder at the Vicarage in 1930, the first full- length novel, readers were hooked. She is the only crime writer to have created two equally famous and much-loved characters, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.

Interest in her work still continues today, this year sees the release of Sophie Hannah’s new Poirot novel The Killings at Kingfisher Hill and the big screen launch of Death on the Nile. I really enjoy Sophie Hannah’s books so it will be fun to see what she does with Poirot. Kenneth Branagh made a great job of Death On the Orient Express so the follow up should be as equally good.

She wrote about the world she knew and saw, drawing on the military gentlemen, lords and ladies, spinsters, widows and doctors of her family’s circle of friends and acquaintances. She was a natural observer and her descriptions of village politics, local rivalries and family jealousies are often painfully accurate. Mathew Prichard, her grandson describes her as a “person who listened more than she talked, who saw more than she was seen.”    

Agatha Christie was born in Torquay in 1890 and throughout her life she returned to the South Devon area buying a holiday home there called Greenway House. Her upbringing was unusual, even for its time, as she was home schooled by her father. Her mother, Clara, who was an excellent storyteller, did not want her to learn to read until she was eight but Agatha taught herself to read by the age of five. In 1902 Agatha began her formal education at Miss Guyer’s Girls’ School in Torquay, before moving to France in 1905 to continue her education at three different Parisian schools. Agatha Christie always said that she had no ambition to be a writer although she made her debut in print at the age of eleven with a poem printed in a local London newspaper. By the age of 18 she was amusing herself with writing short stories, some of which were published in much revised form in the 1930s.

Agatha’s Christies, personal life was not without much mystery and some sadness.  It was in 1912 that Agatha met Archie Christie, a qualified aviator who had applied to join the Royal Flying Corps. Their courtship was a whirlwind affair, the war separated them and they spent very little time together, In 1914, they married but, were only reunited in 1918. They had one child, named Rosalind, in 1919.

Archie was asked to tour areas of the British Empire to promote the opening of the British Empire Exhibition, which was due to open in London in 1924. Agatha joined her husband on his travels and while visiting Hawaii the couple possibly became two of the first Europeans to master surfing standing up. They spent as much of their days as they could on the beach riding the waves. She expressed her feeling of mastery and triumph the first time she rode her board all the way to the beach while standing up. This research was done by Peter Robinson from the Museum of British Surfing, who was quick to admit that the discovery caught him by surprise.

Archie and Agatha’s relationship, strained by the sadness in losing her mother, broke down when he fell in love with a fellow golfer and friend of the family, Nancy Neale. In December 1926, Agatha left her daughter to the care of the maids without saying where she was going. Her car was found abandoned the next morning several miles away. A nationwide search ensued. The press and public enjoyed various speculations as to what might have happened and why but no one knew for sure. It eventually transpired that Agatha had somehow travelled to Kings Cross station where she took the train to Harrogate and checked into the Harrogate Spa Hotel under the name of Theresa Neale. Having been recognised by the hotel staff, who alerted the police, she did not recognise Archie when he came to meet her. Possibly concussed but certainly suffering from amnesia, Agatha had no recollection of who she was. An intensely private person, made even more so by the hue and cry of the press, Agatha never spoke of this time with friends or family. Films and TV series have been produced about this event, however the true story has never been uncovered.

After a devastating divorce, the crime novelist took a trip to Baghdad in 1928 and lost her heart to the ancient sites of Iraq and archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan, who become her second husband in 1930. Forged by a love of travel this was to be a much happier marriage. Agatha would spend long seasons at various excavation sites in Syria and Iraq, accompanying her husband. She worked on restoring pieces of pottery, inventorying finds, and photographing artefacts. This also gave her further inspiration for her plots

Christie considered retiring at the age of seventy-five, but her books were selling so well that she decided to keep writing for at least another five years, and wound up writing up until about a year before she passed away at age eighty-six. After a hugely successful career and a very happy life Agatha died peacefully on 12 January 1976. She is buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Cholsey, near Wallingford.

Thousands of visitors come to South Devon every year to visit the places that inspired Agatha Christie’s books and imagination. The estate of Greenway near Kingswear which was her beloved family retreat is now a National trust property. Christie called it ‘the loveliest place in the world’ and it’s easy to see why. An annual festival is held here to celebrate her life. The International Agatha Christie Festival in 2020 was cancelled but it will be held again in September 2021, which will feature a competition for aspiring young writers.

I have always been a fan of the books but finding out more about the interesting and surprising facts of Agatha Christies own unique life, makes me even more of a super-fan.

As well as a host of activities and events, more information is available on the website

Making Your Home a Haven

These are unprecedented times, when everyone in the world is being encouraged to stay at home as much as possible. This can create a lot of anxiety for everyone. So it’s important that you create a relaxing and tranquil atmosphere, whether you have returned to lock-down or if you’re just practising self-quarantine or shielding. These enforced stays at home make us realize the importance of been as comfortable as we can in our homes. This is the place to be totally ourselves. Homes can have the power to heal also, I feel another blog post forming!

There are different steps we can take to do this, often without a great deal of effort or additional expense. As I have mentioned before, keeping clutter down to a minimal does make for a relaxing environment. Its difficult to relax probably with piles of stuff that needs moving etc.  A mini-makeover can make a big difference to a room. Throw out or remove any old or uncomfortable cushions, if the pads are ok but the covers are old, just change those. There are lots really interesting designs available on the high street look at TK Maxx or Ikea. Charity shops, eBay and Gumtree can also offer bargains. If you like making things why not have a go at making your own covers! (Old curtains can be re-made as cushions) As we go into Winter, rich colours and tactile fabrics like fake fur, velvet or plaid can give a cosy warm feel. Throws and blankets are lovely for snuggling up with and will also cover an old sofa, so are a design feature as well as been practical.

The Danish culture of Hygge, is the happiness of staying at home combined with the satisfaction of enjoying time at home. Hygge means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people. A real value is placed on well-being and family life. Perhaps this explains why the Danes are some of the happiest people in the world.

Lighting, particularly as it starts to get darker at night, can really change a room. Fairy lights are lovely and shops are starting to stock Christmas decorations many of which are far to nice to only use for a couple of weeks. Candles can add additional light but also fragrance and are a wonderful treat to both yourself and others. Scented with a fir tree scent or pine helps to embrace the Autumn and Winter time. But there are many wonderful scents available, personally I think that better quality soy candles using natural ingredients are better for you and the environment. These do last longer too, so can often work out as better value in the long run.

I always think that the best way to personalize your home space is to hang pictures or photographs on the wall. I like to have pictures of my loved ones but images of your favourite places, holiday memories or positive messages, can be uplifting too. Why not have a go yourself and paint your own canvas? You can attach wallpaper to canvases by using a heavy- duty staple gun, just make sure you pull this tight so it doesn’t bag at the side.

Adults and children’s alike will get a lot out of bringing plants into the home. If you’re new to having plants indoors, start with something easy like a large, statement piece that doesn’t need to much care like a Cactus or Succulent. Plants can have healing properties as well as looking great. I love flowers but these can be more expensive in Autumn and I like to use natural rather than artificial, so plants can be good value as with some care they will last for a long time.

As, I mentioned in my last post many people are still working from home and having a separation of work and home space is important for a balanced lifestyle. Creating a dedicated area for exercise and meditation could give you a place to retreat if you are feeling stressed. Playing music, lighting candles and an uncluttered space would help you to become calmer. We can all benefit from personal space and time.

It’s important you have a bedroom where you feel you’re safe from the outside world. Simple pre-bedtime routines like not watching TV or doing work and reading instead will help you feel relaxed in your bedroom. You may even want to consider updating your overall bedroom aesthetic at this time, and creating the bedroom you’ve always wanted. Choose a tranquil colour palette which really resonates with you or investing in new bedding so you can unwind in your bedroom.

Its vital that we all practise as much self- care as we can. Giving ourselves peace and a place to relax is so important in uncertain, chaotic times.

The New Normal- Working from Home

Working from home was seen as a temporary fix for an unusual situation. However, this has become a longer necessity than was originally thought. Many people had hoped to return to their offices and initially this was been encouraged by our government, but there appears to have been several U-turns on this policy. Most of the people I know who have been working from home, started doing so in March and in October are still working from home. (And they all really enjoy doing so) Localized lock-downs and Track and Trace, are keeping many of us in our homes.

The majority of office workers believe they will still be working from home until at least 2021 even with the government’s best efforts to get people back into the workplace. More than four out of 10 office workers are still working from their homes. This is despite around half of the respondents, 49 % stating their employer had requested that they return to the office. It shows businesses and the Government still have their work cut out to convince employees that it is safe to return to the workplace. A major obstacle for people going back to work is public transport, with the survey revealing that 57% believing it is unsafe to take the bus or train to work.

Many major companies continue working remotely and plenty have no immediate plans to return to the office. Indeed, and Google have extended their work-from-home policies by an entire year. Employees don’t have to return to their offices until summer 2021, and both companies plan to accommodate remote-working indefinitely in some capacity. Uber, American Express and Airbnb have also extended their remote- working policies.

The Understanding Society Covid-19 Study has stated that nine out of 10 those who had worked from home during lockdown would like to continue in some form. The increasing costs of public transport and overcrowded roads and trains have made getting to work, expensive and stressful. If you spend your working life at a computer or using a telephone, in therapy, could you do this anywhere? Are people much happier and engaged without the stress of commuting? We had even started to see a dramatic reduction in traffic, congestion, and pollution. The benefits to the environmental impacts us all.

Industry insiders estimate that we will see 25-30% of the workforce working at home on a multiple-days-a-week basis by the end of 2021, in both the UK and USA. In the last few decades, the demand for flexibility in where and how people work has been building. Before the crisis, surveys repeated showed 80% of employees want to work from home at least some of the time. Over a third would take a pay cut in exchange for the option.

Its not just workers who can see the benefits of remote- working.  Businesses desperate to shed costs could save money, occupancy studies have shown just how inefficiently office space was being used. Employees around the globe are not at their desk 50% to 60% of the time!

Covid-19 will also likely cause executives to rethink the need for travelling to meetings. Whilst virtual meetings may not have all the same benefits of being face-to-face, the savings may outweigh the costs much of the time. Zoom meetings are now very much part of so everyday life.

In Wales, their Governments polices differ from the English Government. Nearly a third of people should still be working from homes, even when coronavirus restrictions have eased, says the Welsh Ministers. Who aim to see about 30% of the workforce in Wales staying at or near to their homes in the long term, adopting a culture that supports remote-working. This move is seen as a way of reducing congestion and pollution and improving the work-life balance of the Welsh population.

I can see the good points and bad points of this move, and it will be interesting to see what happens in Scotland, as the UK is divided in its thinking of the best way forward. I think many things will not go back to the old way of doing things, the work-life balance has been lacking for many of us and having had the time to reflect on this people don’t want, in many cases, to return to the old ways. Not going out and seeing other people could potentially cause mental problems for workers isolated from their colleagues. There are social aspects to working with other people. Seeing and talking to others is vital to our well-being.

Other businesses in the high street, in particular coffee shops, are been badly affected by people not going out to work and not consuming as much. So, I guess this has to be addressed too. Its very sad that many businesses are having to close. In a changing culture, there will always be winners and losers.

Working from home permanently, would also require some re-organisation and adjustments in having an actual work space and not allowing your kitchen, living room or bedroom to become an office 24/7. A work environment which is over-cluttered can drain your energy and one which is well- planned can boost energy levels. An environment is the invisible hand which shapes human behaviour, according to author James Clear. Our homes are now our offices, meeting rooms, school rooms even our gyms. (Vital to our fitness, if we are moving less) As we live, eat, sleep and work from one place and life becomes more virtual. I hope that as our life’s change this is with positively moving onwards to better times.