Where is Kindness in the Digital Age?

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Home > Articles > Where is Kindness in the Digital Age?

 Where is Kindness in the Digital Age?

William Wan | Today's Manager
June 1, 2019

Organisations that can balance between creating a supportive, gracious environment where workers thrive, while tackling new technology and innovations will ultimately succeed in the long-run.

With increased automation in businesses today, we are seeing the rise of self-checkout counters, chatbots, and online purchases. Interactions that were once between people are now redirected toward screens. Even fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s have introduced digital self-order kiosks which will soon be available at all 14,000 McDonald’s outlets in the United States.

Technology is advancing relentlessly and the sci-fi vision of automation replacing people causing massive loss of lower-level jobs is already happening. Thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), machines can now not only carry out mundane manual labour, they are performing some cognitive tasks too.

Scientists even predict that, in the foreseeable future, they are able to develop a robot equivalent of a chief executive officer (CEO) that can write and deliver speeches and even serve on boards and make complex decisions. 1

However, while machines can perform a given task, often more efficiently than humans can, they lack the uniquely human ability to cater to the emotional and psychological needs of the individual (not currently at least). For that reason, there are many of us who still prefer to be served by a feeling and empathetic human.

This is especially true in the healthcare industry. Machines may be able to diagnose and even treat more efficiently, but many of us still feel more comfortable working with a doctor who has been trained to walk us through the options and administer the treatment protocol, one who understands our fears and emotions. The traits of kindness, empathy, and compassion cannot be replaced.

Put the ‘Human’ Back into Human Resource
Imagine a world where we board a driverless bus or train to work, communicate through E-mails and Web conferences, and retreat to our individual homes at the end of the day. How cold and isolating will that be?

People still matter, especially in the workplace, where we spend the majority of our waking hours.

Human resource (HR) professionals are often mistaken for administrative staff who hire and fire, and draw up policies and guidelines for employees to adhere to.

However, HR, as its name suggests, is about valuing human capital as a precious resource. The best of HR professionals are advocates of the well-being of human beings at work. They foster a culture where people treat each other humanely with respect, compassion, and kindness. They systematically address our human needs for appreciation, belonging, and opportunities to contribute in a meaningful way.

While kindness and graciousness are sometimes seen as soft values which are nice-to-have but not necessarily a priority on a company’s corporate agenda, they serve a powerful role in boosting morale and camaraderie between happy and engaged workers. It is in the interest of the organisation to make kindness and graciousness a way of life in the workplace.

HR leaders who understand this dynamic can more effectively engage their employees’ best talents, support collaborative teams, and create an environment that fosters productive change.

Enhance Communication with Technology
Whatever the downside of technology, there is no denying that technology has, at the same time, made us more connected than ever and revolutionised the way we work.

Technology allows workers to stay connected internally and externally and facilitate the expeditious flow of ideas. If technology is our servant and not our master, we can take charge and improve the quality of communication between humans through the machines.

A kind and gracious way of communicating is essential for enhancing positive relationships within the workplace. Here are four ways to sustain your organisation’s human touch well into the digital age 2:

  • Encourage more staff interaction with regular staff lunches and team-bonding activities,
  • Create open spaces or hot-desking opportunities for staff to work together,
  • Use new technology to pair up staff as mentors,
  • Gather everyone’s phones into a “Talk Away Box” 3 and disconnect to reconnect with each other, paying closer attention to the conversations around the room.

Achieving the balance between creating a supportive, gracious environment where workers thrive, while also tackling new technology and innovations is not going to be easy. However, organisations that reflect this ethos will ultimately succeed in the long-run.

After all, an organisation is made up of people. Without the opportunity to give and receive kindness through face-to-face interactions, where would that leave us as a workforce, and more importantly, as a society?

The next time you take a coffee break, why not take the initiative to ask a colleague along? A genuine conversation and connection could be the start of an invaluable friendship. Whether in our workplaces, neighbourhoods, or homes, we all have a need to connect and build relationships.

We are social beings; the need for relationship is in our DNA.

1 Finkel A, August 2017. Robots won’t replace us because we still need the human touch, Cosmos, https://cosmosmagazine.com/society/robots-won-t-replace-us-because-we-still-need-that-human-touch.

2 HRD, 15 August 2017. Six ways to keep a human touch in an automating world, Human Resources Director, https://www.hcamag.

3 SKM created a “Talk Away Box” to keep all the mobile phones during a meeting. They are available on request by the HR department.


​Dr William Wan is a Justice of the Peace and General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM). He was a senior partner of a regional law firm and a managing director of a psychometric company headquartered in the USA.


Copyright © 2019 Singapore Institute of Management

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Today's Manager Issue 2, 2019

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