These 12 simple words, clipped from the local newspaper, occupied a tiny sliver of real estate on my mother’s refrigerator door for years. Although the clipping, along with the refrigerator, is long gone, it still pops up as the angel on my shoulder in moments where I’m presented with a choice to be kind or be … umm … unfiltered.
Each of us could fill a book with the people who challenge our best intentions (and ability!) to be kind. And that is exactly why kindness is so important. There’s a lot of negativity and crap out there already – no need to pile on.
The catch is that the moments in which kindness has the biggest impact are the same moments in which being kind is really frikkin’ hard. But practicing kindness daily – building a little muscle around it – helps.
Turns out the office is a great place to do that. You’re there (physically or virtually) five or so days a week, interacting with a variety of people, some of whom are probably on your “challenging” list.
Statistics remind us why kindness matters
Some battles – a broken leg, chemotherapy – leave visible marks. But most often, the battles our coworkers fight are invisible, especially when it comes to mental health.
Consider the following:
- In Europe, Australia, and the United States, roughly 1 in 4 people will experience mental health issues like depression or anxiety – which affects a whole lot of family members, partners, and friends as well.
- Of US employees whose stress interferes with their work, less than half (40 percent) have talked to their employer about it.
- Roughly 1 in 8 adults in the U.S. experience a substance use disorder.
- About 38 percent of people will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. Because cancer is most prevalent in older adults, their working-aged children must cope with the logistics and emotional distress.
- In the developed world, between 10 and 25 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage.
- The divorce rate hovers somewhere around 30-50 percent (depending on who you ask).
- A combined total of 25 million Europeans, Australians, and Americans are unemployed – again, affecting millions more.
- 97 percent of bankruptcies are filed by individuals or households (only 3 percent are filed by businesses).
Sobering statistics like these aren’t the only reason kindness matters at work. Kindness – especially the random, unnecessary sort – boosts morale and makes work feel a little less like, y’know, work.
Plus, being kind just plain feels good. Research shows it even triggers neurological responses that equip our brains to better cope with the struggles of others and be more resilient in the face of our own. Still not convinced? Research shows that the emotional state of teams has a material impact on their effectiveness.
Random ways to be kind at work
Whether you’re in it to build the ol’ kindness muscle, or just want to counter-balance the miasma of negativity it feels like we live in, your teammates are ideal recipients.
Here are a few random ways to practice kindness at work.
- Send flowers, a yummy treat, or a coffee gift card to a teammate on their birthday or work-iversary.
- Learn your teammates’ working preferences (and follow them).
- If your team has an on-call rotation (or similar), offer to step in for the person who’s been working overtime lately.
- Always acknowledge the receipt of chat messages. With remote work, it can be easy to feel like we’re talking into a void.
- Relay the positive feedback you heard about someone’s work if they weren’t there to hear it first hand.
- Better yet, offer some positive feedback yourself with a hand-written thank you note or an e-card.
- Leave a public LinkedIn recommendation for a teammate you enjoy working with.
- If you’re a manager, create opportunities for your team to praise each other. Celebrating small wins can go a long way in fostering team motivation.
- Invite new coworkers to a virtual lunch or coffee break. Make sure everyone feels like they’re part of the team, even when you’re remote.
- Share a link to an article about something you know a teammate finds interesting: a band, author, or movie series, for example. Help people feel seen.
- Listen. If a colleague is struggling with something, hear them out without immediately attempting to solve their problem.
- Instead of criticizing in a moment of frustration, write it in an email to yourself. Send, wait a moment, then read it. If it still seems important after those few minutes, by then you’ll probably have thought of a kinder, more constructive way to say it.
- Have lunch delivered to someone you know is having a busy week (but also needs to eat!).
- Share a personal story with your team. Being vulnerable allows us to show up more fully with our humanity and connect with each other on a more meaningful level.
- Re-share / RT posts referencing a teammate’s work, and add a bit of commentary for a personal touch.
- Simply ask your coworkers “How are you?” and check in with each other on a personal level from time to time. Informal thoughtfulness can mean a lot.
Kindness grows in a virtuous cycle
As Amelia Earhart once said, “No kind action ever stops with itself. One kind action leads to another.” In other words, holding the elevator door a few extra seconds isn’t just being kind. It’s leading by example.