Keynote Speaker Shola Richards Sounds the Call for Kindness

An extra dose of kindness was in the air at Emergency Nursing 2023, thanks to Shola Richards. The self-dubbed kindness guru kicked off the conference by challenging attendees to transform their workplaces by dismantling incivility and embedding kindness into their work cultures.

Shola Richards
Shola Richards

Richards’ brand of kindness is rooted in Ubuntu, an African philosophy that seeks to bring out the height of human kindness, human compassion and human connectedness. He is on a mission to bring Ubuntu into hospitals across the world, saying nurses need this injection of kindness to be at their best.

Studies show that 62 percent of nurses reported feeling emotionally drained at work in 2021, but in 2023, that number went up to 77 percent, according to Richards.

In addition, Richards cited statistics that found approximately 70 percent of nurses said their jobs were detrimentally affecting their health in 2023, compared to 51 percent in 2021. And more than 70 percent of nurses said they felt misunderstood and underappreciated at work in 2023, according to Richards.

In addition, about 75 percent of Americans believe that incivility has reached crisis levels in the United States, he said.

“One of the worst things about this work is that I get to run around all over the world finding how many grown adults are completely unaware of how their words negatively affect others. It’s horrifying,” Richards said. “[But] I come to you with glad tidings. I want to give you science and practical tools that can help you to reconnect [and incorporate the] spirit of Ubuntu and a spirit of togetherness.”

“The best units within hospitals often ask three questions before they do anything,” Richards explained. “The questions are so simple: Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary? This is the power of Ubuntu in action.”

Before nurses can embark on creating healthy workplaces, they must actively practice self-kindness. “You can’t give kindness to others if you don’t start by giving it to yourself. That’s the first step,” Richards said.

Some of the tactics he shared include unapologetically setting and enforcing boundaries, staying away from the anxiety that cable news induces and breaking off toxic relationships.

Building trust is another crucial strategy for creating a kind workplace. “Trust is a key benchmark for the spirit of Ubuntu to honor our shared humanity,” Richards said.

Psychological safety is essential for creating trust in the workplace, he said. Psychological safety is the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.

According to Richards, building trust also depends on having upstanders in the workplace, people who are willing to stand up for their colleagues and patients when they see them being attacked or harassed.

“When you are being targeted, it’s hard to sometimes speak up and advocate for yourself. So, I’m challenging all of us. You want people to trust you? Show solidarity because you can’t get through the next few years without the ability to stay together as a group,” Richards said.

“That’s how you build unshakable trust: psychological safety and being an upstander when you see behaviors that need to be addressed,” he added.

The last strategy for building a kind workplace entails nurses committing to tasks and projects that are necessary yet difficult. To develop that resilience to carry out deep commitments, Richards recommends that nurses surround themselves with eight types of people. They include someone empathetic and supportive, someone who regularly reminds another of his or her purpose, and a person who can help one maintain perspective.

Richards acknowledges that executing all these strategies and tactics to build a kind workplace is difficult. However, he encourages people to focus on carrying them out one day at a time rather than focusing on a large amount of time, which can be daunting.

“The work is hard. You already know this, and I don’t want you to think you have to keep this going forever because no one is going to do this forever,” Richards said. “You can do anything just for today. You can do anything until you fall asleep tonight.”