A 3 minute read…
I believe kindness is a choice that has very little downside. Think about it. What do you really have to lose by being kind? It doesn’t cost more or require extra effort, and yet it almost always results in goodwill. But if kindness is a such a no-brainer, then why do we seem to hear more about random acts of violence than random acts of kindness? I invite you to join me as I explore the choice of kindness, how it results in greater happiness, which in turn leads to improved productivity in the workplace.
United Airlines was in the headlines April 9 when a man was dragged off one of its planes. It would be easy for me to point out the poor choices made that day, but plenty of others have already scrutinized the actions of everybody involved. I find it remarkable how the choices made by a relatively few number of people ended up having such a negative impact on so many and will ultimately cost the airline millions of dollars.
Instead of criticizing United, I’d rather offer a comparison to something that happened four days prior. When severe storms in the South resulted in 300 canceled flights, Delta Airlines ordered more than 700 pizzas and sub sandwiches for passengers who were stranded or delayed. Similar to the United incident, the story first emerged via social media. This time, however, it was pictures of flight attendants and even pilots handing out slices of pizza to passengers stuck on planes. The delays were completely out of Delta’s control and they were under no obligation to do anything, but they chose to have food delivered. It was a choice they made as a company. A choice of kindness. It was a choice that may have cost them several thousand dollars, but the payoff is immeasurable. And it’s nothing compared to the cost of the choices made in the United incident.
Choosing acts of kindness is good for business
Even small acts of kindness can result in big impacts. In 2012, a young man was visiting his terminally ill grandmother. Evidently, she told him the hospital soup tasted like s*** and that she really wanted clam chowder from Panera Bread. The young man called the local Panera restaurant and even though it wasn’t Friday, the manager offered to make some without hesitation. When this story was retold on Facebook, it received 500,000 likes and 22,000 comments within a week. All because an employee was empowered to make the choice of kindness.
Choosing to be kind doesn’t always have to be about making customers happy or generating positive publicity. Research shows that kindness makes you happier. To be fair, being overly generous, or giving away something you’re short on (like giving money when you’re poor or donating time when you’re overscheduled) can actually have negative effects, but in general, it feels good to be kind.
The advantage of being happy
Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, makes a compelling case that the greatest advantage in today’s economy is a happy and engaged workforce. His research proves happiness raises nearly every business and educational outcome: it increases sales by 37%, productivity by 31%, and accuracy on tasks by 19%. Turns out that happy people are also healthier and less likely to leave.
Everyday kindness in the workplace
If I asked you to share examples of kindness in your workplace, would your response be: Somebody bringing donuts or bagels on Friday morning? Unexpected praise from a co-worker or better yet, your boss? A hand written “thank you” or “you rock!” note left on your desk? Kudos on your big presentation? Somebody who volunteered to help you finish a task or meet a deadline? Maybe even just a simple compliment about your outfit? Whatever your answer, I am confident that it brought you happiness not only when it first happened, but again just now replaying the moment in your head. Am I right? I think acts of kindness might be one of the single biggest contributors to a positive work environment.
Authenticity and kindness
We promote authenticity as one of our PEAK Values and even dream about a world where everybody is comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work. However, there are times when being kind should override saying exactly what is on your mind. I remember a senior manager who used to say things like “Well, THAT was a dumb idea!” during staff meetings. Even if it WAS a dumb idea (it was), what good can possibly come from saying that? Not only does one person feel stupid and attacked, but it discourages everybody else from engaging in the kind of unfiltered discussion that is at the core of good decision making. I am not suggesting that you should sugarcoat everything, rather, think about the impact of your words before you say them. You can give truthful and honest feedback and still be kind.
Some of the examples I gave above are obvious and visible acts of kindness. Other, more subtle acts of kindness, result in a more inclusive work environment. For example, help encourage a teammate share an innovative idea that may otherwise be shot down without peer support. When someone in a meeting isn’t being heard, could you raise the issue and try to open a moment for that person to have space to share?
Karma and “Why not?”
I have deeply held beliefs about karma and that “what goes around comes around.” As an engineer, I wish karma worked like a series of debits and credits, but it doesn’t. It requires trust, patience and persistence. It’s not easy, especially when we have days when we’re tempted to respond with anger or aggression rather than perform an act of kindness. Despite the challenges, I still believe kindness is the obvious choice. We know it leads to happiness and that happy people are more productive, healthy and loyal (which are all good for business!). Next time you are faced with the choice of kindness, rather than asking “Why?” I encourage you to ask “Why not?”