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 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? New 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.
- Surprise a teammate with a yummy treat on their birthday or work-iversary.
- Hold the elevator for the person who is still 30 feet away, but clearly in a hurry.
- If your team has an on-call rotation (or similar), offer to step in for the person who’s been working overtime lately.
- When you find a confidential-looking document at the printer, discreetly deliver it to its owner’s desk.
- Bring fancy coffee drinks to the front desk staff. They deserve it – trust me.
- 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! Here’s a little inspiration from the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation:
- Leave sticky notes with messages like “You got this” or “You’re the reason someone smiled today” on the bathroom mirror.
- When you head to the kitchen, offer to grab any dishes from your teammates’ desks and bring them to the sink.
- 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.
- Brew another pot of coffee when you take the last cup.
- Bring lunch to the person who is “in the zone” (but also needs to eat).
- Re-share / RT posts referencing a teammate’s work, and add a bit of commentary for a personal touch.
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.