Work hard and be kind

A look back at Joseph Rowntree and corporate kindness

Anthony Burrill’s Work Hard & Be Nice to People adorns many an office wall, including my own. And quite rightly so. A mantra for life. Although I worry now that ‘nice’ is a bit of a hollow word. A little bland. And I fear kindness is going the same way.

I am an avid campaigner for kindness at work, particularly within the ad industry, which seems to oscillate from a warm, maternal bosom to downright torturous depending on the department, team and agency you belong to. I should make it clear from the outset that simply being kind to one another is a pretty basic requirement for the human race to continue.  Add ‘polite’ to that and you have what should be the minimum viable behaviours for being part of modern society.

What I believe in so strongly is the power of corporate kindness and the positive impact it has on the bottom line. In fact, we’re working with Lancaster University Management School to prove the extent of this relationship and demonstrate that it’s a legitimate indicator for fiscal health and future success. 

But until the study is concluded, there is a lot we already know to support our case.


It’s far more than being nice. Or polite. Or unlimited goat milk and marbling workshops at lunchtime. It is empathy, compassion and benevolence. It’s being aware of people’s whole selves and acting accordingly. It’s the manner in which people are treated. The better we treat our people, the more we strive to keep them at the top of their game, the better their work is, leading to newer and repeat business and less money spent hiring more good folk — all positively impacting net profit. 


This isn’t anything new. Benevolent Victorian merchants with a strong sense of civic responsibility followed this very path. Fuelled by the incredible wealth that the Industrial Revolution brought to some, way back in the 1880s, Cadbury and Rowntree stepped up and stepped in to level the playing field a bit.

Joseph Rowntree

The name Rowntree we associate with KitKat and Fruit Pastilles, but it should also lead you to a radical stand taken against the appalling conditions in Victorian factories. Joseph Rowntree was driven by a desire to make society a better place. Once called ‘one of Britain’s greatest and most interesting philanthropists’, he designed the factory — the heart of his power and wealth — on the proposition that employees ‘should never merely be regarded as cogs in an industrial machine, but rather as fellow workers in a great industry’. From a pension scheme to a works council, to a profit-sharing scheme to a massive housing scheme to lift them out of slum conditions, they got to so many things long before anyone else. And as a legacy, the foundation that bears his name today is still working to solve UK poverty. This is a strength of corporate kindness that others can only aspire to — and can be attributed to their success and presence some 150 years later. CSR on steroids. You could call it kindness. You could call it philanthropy. But you could also call it good business.

People like to buy from kind businesses too — just look at the recent stratospheric rise in B Corps around the world (of which we are one). They have all pledged to run their businesses on a triple bottom line of people, planet and profit, and they are reaping the rewards. Certified B Corps tend to outperform their competitors in both ESG and business performance, seeing an impressive turnover growth of 26% between 2017 & 2020, compared to a national average of 5% (Source: B Lab, 2021)

Positive corporate ethics have a proven impact on brand perception, preference and loyalty too

People want to buy from ‘good’ brands with Forbes noting that 81% of people state it’s important to buy from companies that reflect their own values.

So enough of the pool table, barista, and mindful-glitter-folding workshops, the corporate croissant, five a side kit and pinball machine. These short term perks are designed to ease the pain of working 70 hour weeks, being surrounded by dickish behaviour, static pay packets and an environment that is far removed from the colourful, eclectic, nurturing world it should (and can) be.

You can see the picture building — reduced costs associated with a loyal workforce, better work being produced by people who have been set up to succeed, and buyers (clients or consumers) choosing kind brands over the competition.

So whilst the world of business has often viewed kindness as a weakness, naïve, a little ‘pink’, we are out to prove that it is anything but soft.  

Featured image: Joseph Rowntree

Aimee Luther, Managing Director, Liberty Guild

Aimee Luther is The Liberty Guild’s managing director, The Liberty Guild is an invitation-only curated association of the finest communication practitioners in the world. Previously she was former MD of Beattie McGuinness Bungay and founder of Fornight Collective in Europe.

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