You’ve always got the time to be kind.
That’s the opinion of various experts and business leaders we talked with as we pondered what seems to be the lost art of acting generously toward coworkers. The idea may be counterintuitive for A-type personalities whose daily objective is to press hard for goals, benchmarks and bonuses.
However, says workplace leadership expert Dianne Crampton, we often forget that kindness can be a catalyst for better performance through empathy, putting oneself in the place of your coworkers in order to identify with their situation.
“The bottom line is that improving empathy and kindness is tied to increased productivity and ultimately improved business revenue,” Crampton said. “So, as a principle required for high-performance work groups, empathy and kindness improvements are both measurable and then trackable in the business bottom line. No fluff. Not touchy-feely. Just solid psychological, good business sense.”
Organization development consultant Lisa Sansom, a coach and consultant at LVS Consulting, echoed Crampton’s sentiment, noting that kindness in the workplace also boosts employee retention and participation.
“Kindness in the workplace is important for building positive workplace relationships, setting a strong corporate culture and increasing employee retention and engagement,” Sansom said.
But how exactly do businesses go about achieving those lofty goals of increased performance, retention and engagement?
We reached out to business owners and HR reps to find out. We received some intriguing responses offering ideas for practicing kindness as well as examples of kindness at work in the office.
The Experts Offer Up Easy Ways to Express Kindness
To be kind, you must be intentional about it. Very few employees are willing to bring their schedule to a halt to take a few minutes to ponder what they can do to enliven their colleagues’ spirits.
The time spent on kindness, though, is well worth it.
Say Thank You
Dana Case, director of operations at online legal filing service MyCorporation, says kind workplaces have one common thread: consistent expressions of gratitude.
“One of the most appropriate ways to practice kindness in the workplace is to say, ‘Thank you,’ to fellow employees and make it a regular practice,” she said. “It’s a simple sentiment that goes a long way in making everyone feel valued.”
Be careful, though, says Sansom; if you try to formalize a system of thank-you’s or kindness in general, these transformational moments could become forced and lose their punch.
“It’s possible to institutionalize kindness but, in my opinion, this takes a discretionary fun effort and turns it into a corporate obligation,” she said. “Be kind just because – not because someone else told you to or because everyone else is doing it.”
Send a Note
Alexis Monson, co-founder of Punkpost, a service that lets users send custom thank-you notes via their app, says acts of kindness don’t have to be grandiose, either.
“To spread happiness, gestures don’t have to huge and elaborate,” she noted. “Simple and thoughtful is all you need.”
A note written to a co-worker expressing heartfelt gratitude for a job done well or their willingness to cover for you in a jam can go a long way.
Using a service like Punkpost – or even a handwritten note — is something that can make a difference in a co-worker’s life, she said.
Another excellent bit of advice came from Fit Small Business HR Analyst Lauren Hedrick, who emphasized the importance of listening.
We’ve all been the person who tunes out our colleagues because we’re focused on an upcoming deadline or issue. Taking the time to set aside the momentum of your work life to genuinely fix your attention on the person in the cubicle next to you is powerful.
“We warm up our cars and we allow our computers time to load their apps,” Hedrick said. “Should we not give a moment to our human peers to let them know we seem them, care about them and enjoy working with them?”
A Few Reminders About Kindness
As we mentioned early on in this post, you have to avoid formalizing kindness. Employees will sniff out the corporate nature of enforced generosity and they’ll most likely lose interest.
Sansom said another important aspect of kindness is to remember that you need to be discerning about what you say and to whom you say it. Don’t bare your soul to someone you barely know.
“Kindness can be different for different people. What you may see as kind might not come across well with someone else,” she said. “So, unless you know someone well, it may be wise to stay away from anything too personal at the start.”
As you get to know your colleagues, managers and/or employees, you’ll recognize the best way to be kind.
Another benefit of building empathy and kindness in the workplace? Conflicts are more likely to be less severe.
“In work cultures that measure high in empathy, conflict rarely escalates but is quickly rolled back to the root cause,” Crampton said. “There is a recognition that problems usually arise over confusion on how to do something or the way a system works rather than problems that employees have willfully caused to antagonize one another.”