Kindness at Work is Natural

Kindness, real kindness, fosters trust. Kindness is not about saying the right things or being polite, it is about showing through your actions genuine caring and respect. – Lori Ada Kilty 

November 13th is World Kindness Day, recognized around the world as a day for people to be kind. In 1998, the World Kindness Movement initiated this day of celebration to encourage everyone to make a little extra effort to be kind to one another.

In Book II of “Rhetoric”, Aristotle defines kindness as “helpfulness towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for that of the person helped.”  

Technology, mobility, the speed of information dissemination, a global, multi-cultural, and multi-generational workforce are flattening the traditional hierarchies in the workplace. Costs of connectivity continue to decline while capabilities continue to rise. Mobile connectivity is growing at an unprecedented rate. Our world is in the midst of dramatic change - one where a teenage worker may be better steeped in a strategic social media technology than the CIO – a world where the “new hire” might have 50 years of industry experience. The democratization of the workplace, and growing importance of interpersonal connections is why kindness is on the rise and why being kind is a natural way to build a healthy, strong, and engaged organization.  

Our shifting demographics and competitive landscape will reward organizations who actively engage their workforce and support individuals as they strive for greatness – for themselves, for their organizations, communities, and countries. Old school leaders that leverage fear and manipulation, reward autocratic individualistic behavior, and create a dog-eat-dog internally competitive culture will fall behind as global social media and communication tools unlock the new capabilities of a multi-cultural workforce. Leaders and organizational cultures that embrace principles of kindness, respect, and collaboration will engage employees and leverage new skills in exciting ways.

"You can accomplish by kindness what you cannot by force." - Publilius Syrus, 1st Century BC

Here is an illustration: Joe is a long-time manager at the firm. He’s been in his job since the 80’s, with a long-time command and control style that served him well in his career. He knows how to strike fear in his subordinates by calling them out in meetings. Shantanuma is a new woman on the team. She graduated with honors from her PhD program at a prestigious US university after undergrad work overseas. She joined the team after Joe’s firm bought her high tech startup. She has lots of ideas on how to revolutionize Joe’s business, and is qualified to implement them all. However, Joe’s intimidating style completely shuts her down and she offers nothing beyond what Joe tells her to do. Now let’s pretend that Joe has a style build on kindness – he still has years of experience, but rather than using his experience to justify being condescending, he shows genuine interest in Shantanuma’s opinions and ideas. Even if he doesn’t agree, he listens and is willing to discuss. He listens to Shantanuma’s questions and seeks to answer them to the best of his ability. He treats her with respect and is supportive of her perspective. He is kind and sincerely appreciates her participation. In this environment, Shantanuma is very likely to suggest her ideas and the team can collaborate and build on her experience. In the former environment, she may not even remain with the firm.

The Dalai Lama said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

Members of today’s workforce have grown up with a rich and uniquely diverse set of experiences, and the world of business is more dynamic than ever, it’s critical for organization to draw out – and include -  their employees skills and understanding. Creativity and innovative thinking require the shedding of uniformity, and an extended hand of kindness is a natural way to engage people and invite their ideas.  

Kindness to another, in the Aristotle sense of not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself builds trust. Trust in an organization allows for collaboration, experimentation, risk-taking – all characteristic behaviors of innovative organizations. Kindness makes it fun to come to work – both for the helper and the helped – and can help spur natural behaviors of motivation, engagement, productivity, and enthusiasm. And the best part – kindness is free – and it makes both the giver and receiver feel better.

In the stress of day to day activities in the workplace, it’s hard to find support or justification for taking time out to spend on kind acts. Economic and competitive challenges, a troubling global economy, privacy implications, and a hyper competitive business environment drive away or de-prioritize opportunities for business leaders to take a moment to invest in acts kindness. However, these changes in a dynamic work environment are exactly why approaching work with an attitude of kindness, optimism, and fun are more important now than they ever have been.  

Leo Buscaglia said, “The majority of us lead quiet, unheralded lives as we pass through this world. There will most likely be no ticker-tape parades for us, no monuments created in our honor. But that does not lessen our possible impact, for there are scores of people waiting for someone just like us to come along; people who will appreciate our compassion, our unique talents. Someone who will live a happier life merely because we took the time to share what we had to give. Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have a potential to turn a life around. It's overwhelming to consider the continuous opportunities there are to make our love felt.”

As you celebrate World Kindness Day on November 13th with kind acts of your own, here are a few suggestions for how to get started:

  1. Positivity matters - “"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle". - Plato
  2. Acknowledge everyone’s positive intent and general kindness
  3. Be Present – in our connected world, smile, look in people’s eyes, give full attention
  4. Increase your circle of kindness – reach out to a stranger, hold the door, say hello
  5. Express your gratitude – thank you are the two most important words
  6. Let it go – don’t push to get in the last word or to be right
  7. Acknowledge greatness in others
  8. Be self-aware and practice humility
  9. Set up a video call with a friend or family member
  10. Breathe – take in nature – and pass along your own good fortune

Kind words can be short and easy to speak but their echoes are truly endless. - Mother Teresa

Please consider extending your kindness to those impacted by Typhoon Haiyan.

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

Add new comment

Please enter the text you see in the image below: