CLES PVC’s Blog – Term 1


Kindness, success …. and wellbeing

I’m starting a blog. This might seem quite run of the mill to many of you but it’s a leap into the unknown for me. Why am I writing a blog and what’s it for? Well, it emerged as a suggestion from discussions following the employee engagement survey and I thought why not? It can’t (I don’t think) make the quality of communication any worse in the College and it might be of interest to at least some people. I can’t really tell you at this point what it will be, but I can tell you what it won’t be. It is not a set of announcements or directives and I will at least try to keep talk of key performance indicators and league tables out of it as far as possible. There are other fora for that. What I hope it will be is a place to air my thoughts on some of the less obvious issues that influence the functioning and success of the College and the well-being and satisfaction of staff and students in it. I’ll try to avoid it sounding like a Radio4 Thought for the Day and I’ll try to keep it reasonably light, but I will try to make a point each time. I also can’t tell you how often or how long any of these blogs will be…. It’s probably better to make no promises and see what happens! I’m hoping you’ll let me know what you think – and trust you to be honest in doing so. You could even try out the (so far under-used) CLES Comments page …

Something that caught my attention a little while ago was a short article in THES (bear with me, this might not be going where you think, and I would rather my inspiration had been a different source too). Written by Theo Gilbert from Hertfordshire, it related the findings of a large scale study by Google into success in the workplace, which showed that the most important factor in success is…. Kindness. He goes on to talk about applying this concept to education and makes a great case for teaching and assessing ‘compassion skills’ to students in group work. However, whilst reading, I was thinking about kindness in the workplace more generally, and I couldn’t help feeling that if the behemoth Google Inc. sees the benefits, then perhaps this is something we could all use. I was also intrigued that the focus for Google seemed to be the particular effect of kindness on commercial success. I understand why Google might want to know that, but surely there could be other benefits too, especially for health and wellbeing for their own sake? Even if there were no impact on the balance sheet, surely a happier, healthier workforce is a prize worth having in itself?

Academics know first-hand about stress and wellbeing from students, colleagues and all too often their own personal experience. The high rate of mental health risks in academic life are well established and our own employee engagement surveys show that Exeter is no different. A short blog is not the place to dissect and resolve this in detail (if only it were that easy), but I do think that general happiness, health and well-being must be central to the links between kindness/compassion, effectiveness of learning, and success in the workplace. We are all happier if people are kind to us and kinder if those around us are happier, more successful if we are happy and happier if we are successful. There’s clearly a virtuous circles here, and of course the reverse is equally true. Kindness is certainly not a panacea and it won’t make all the very real challenges we all experience disappear, but (unlike many of the other potential solutions), daily acts, attitudes and expressions of kindness and compassion can and do make a difference. I see it every day in some form or other and I hope you do too. Despite being inevitably grumpy sometimes, I consciously try to contribute to the sum of human kindness on a daily basis and I’d love to see even more of it in every corner of the College and University. How about a Kindness Prioritisation Initiative?