Creating Connection, Community and Compassion at Work

Published on
January 16, 2017
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Early on in my career I remember getting my first performance review in my new role as an HR manager, and was shocked when I was told that I would never be successful in human resources as long as I continued to “wear my heart on my sleeve.” I was told that I needed to toughen up, stop getting so personal with those under my care, and not personalize my job. I was then informed that I was too sensitive. Wanting to do a good job, I spent the next year trying to figure out how to stop wearing my heart on my sleeve and to fix what was supposedly broken within me. I confess this one isolated incident put me on a career path with a passion to raise awareness in leaders of how imperative it was that we humanize the workplace; kindness became an actionable tool.

Can Kindness be a Solution?

Kindness is a simple concept—too simple, one might think, to provide a solution to the stressors and challenges of work. Yet current research suggests that kindness has the power to effect positive change and decrease stress within individuals and organizations, while increasing employee optimism and engagement.

The American Management Association (AMA) discovered the power of kindness at work when it set out to examine whether a manager’s character had an effect on employee engagement levels and retention. Respondents were asked if they planned to work for their company for a long time. Of those who worked for a manager they considered kind, 79% answered yes; of those who worked for someone they considered unkind, 23% answered yes.

Respondents were also asked if they looked forward to going to work every day—74% of those who worked for a kind boss answered yes, compared to 32% of those who worked for someone they considered unkind. Overall results showcased that 70% of those working for kind managers gave extra effort to everything they did.

Dr. Jane Dutton, of the University of Michigan School of Business, said, “Our findings suggest that compassion among co-workers is more than simply a momentary, humane response to pain; it fosters important organizational outcomes and leaves its imprint on the organizational landscape.”

Kindness to Colleagues

In South Africa there is a philosophy referred to as “Ubuntu”, which when interpreted means, “I am because of who we are.” Retired Archbishop and social rights activist Desmond Tutu believes that Ubuntu is the very essence of what it is to be human:

“You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality—Ubuntu—you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”

Studies and statistics are attention-grabbing, but the real power of kindness emerges when we share stories and discover Ubuntu—how acts of kindness shape the way in which we connect with what we do and with each other.

Patti loves her work in foodservice at a small rural hospital. When she makes pancakes for the children’s ward, she makes them look like kittens. She says, “If I can take a little more time—make food look special, they (the children) will eat more & get healthier quicker.”

John is a civic employee. When he ran out of paid sick days and short-term disability for an unexpected illness, his colleagues took up a collection and sent it around. Except they were not collecting cash; instead, they asked for donations of unused sick time in increments over four hours to multiple days. His comrades collected enough for him to take an additional two months off with pay—one heartfelt sick day at a time.

By putting kindness into pancakes, and taking a collection, we create engagement with each other, we sustain each other. Archbishop Tutu is right. We are mutually dependent upon one another—not only to survive, but, even more importantly, to thrive.

Kindness is Good for You

Dr. Myriam Mongrain, of York University in Toronto, Canada monitored a test group of over 700 subjects who, for one week, were asked to do something kind for someone each day in some small way. The participants were interviewed six months later to see if that week of doing good deeds had any lasting effect on them.

She found that over 50% of the participants voluntarily continued doing good deeds because they felt such an improved sense of wellbeing. Some participants even stated that the experiment had actually changed their lives for the better. Mongrain concluded, “What’s amazing is that the time investment required for these changes to occur is so small; we’re talking mere minutes a day.”

Dr. Paul J. Zak, Professor at Claremont University as well as author of The Moral Molecule, has done ground-breaking work on how oxytocin affects and benefits us. His studies have shown that when we undertake kind actions, chemical reactions take place so that more oxytocin, the hormone that promotes bonding, is produced.

Create a Culture of Kindness

Organizations are on a continuous search for ways in which they can hire, train, and retain staff, while building strong relationships both within the company and the community. Using kindness as a business driver is a proactive approach aimed at enhancing the wellbeing of individuals within an organization, and the sustainability and health of the organization itself.

Begin a kindness campaign within your company with programs and activities around the theme of Kindness to Oneself. This theme aims to support self-care and the nurturing of one’s health and well-being.

When you are comfortable, you can move on to Kindness to Colleagues. This theme fosters optimistic teamwork and the growth of a caring workplace, one in which colleagues not only see each other for what they do, but also for who they are. Seek out goodwill ambassadors to assist and support you in the journey to a kinder workplace. Find ways to recognize, honour and celebrate the uniqueness of your co-workers.

A quick formula for treating others with respect and kindness is to pause and ask yourself three questions: Is what I am about to say or do truthful? Is it necessary that I say or do it? And, above all else, can I say or do it with kindness?

Ideas for cultivating a culture of kindness might include:

  • Creating a “kindness corner” bulletin board or online. Invite people to contribute inspiring thoughts, quotes, suggestions, positive newsworthy events and articles.
  • Starting a kindness group that comes together to dialogue and commit conscious acts of kindness in the organization and in the community.
  • Holding a Kindness@Work day in conjunction with the annual global World Kindness Day held on November 13.
  • Hosting “Lunch and Learn” presentations. This is a great way to foster caring connections between colleagues through the exploration of personal development themes.
  • Starting a “Positive Growth” library. Invite colleagues to donate books that brought them joy, self-discovery and learning.
  • Linking kindness to rewards and recognition, Occupational Health and Safety initiatives, and in-house training programs.
  • Opening staff meetings and events with stories of gratitude and acts of kindness.

There are endless ways to bring more kindness to the work environment: help a colleague who feels overwhelmed, give small gifts, offer words of appreciation, deliver a cup of tea to a work station, offer a ride home on a cold night, demonstrate empathetic listening, and allow a grieving colleague to work through their grief while on the job.

Lastly, Kindness in the Community is the natural next step. Take kindness even further and make a difference locally and globally through community service.

The Kindness Challenge

Focusing on kindness as a core value and as a standard for personal decision-making provides a solid foundation to recharge and centre oneself. When under pressure within a work environment, we may find it difficult to determine which options available represent the highest level of integrity, trust, or innovation, but it is usually quite simple to determine which choice is the most kind to ourselves, our colleagues, and our communities.

A quote to contemplate asks, “if someone were to pay you ten cents for every kind word you spoke and collect five cents for every unkind word, would you be richer or poorer?” Take the kindness challenge and in the next 48 hours commit a conscious act of kindness to yourself, a colleague, or your community and see how good you feel.

If you are interested in exploring your own kindness quota follow this link to the Kindness Engagement Index™ to join our research on creating kinder workplaces.

Read a summary of The Business of Kindness for more actionable insights into creating a kind, compassionate workplace, or pick up a copy of the book to learn more about kindness initiatives in the workplace.