“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” (Leo Buscaglia)
At least once a week, I come across an article, research summary, or opinion piece lauding the benefits of kindness in the workplace. I’ve shared many of these demonstrated benefits through this blog over its six-plus years of kindness-diving (as opposed to dumpster-diving). And I’ve been encouraged to see that a lot of businesses are taking to heart the advice from experts that kindness is one of the best strategies a business can employ for long-term success.
As many businesses are now planning how best to transition from a remote workforce to fully-staffed offices, or a hybrid (“amphibious”) model, it’s a good time to explore where kindness fits in and how to employ it in our workplaces . . . and in our lives.
In early May, Harvard Business Review published an excellent article summarizing a workplace study of the benefits of kindness. Much of it reiterated conclusions that have been put forward by others, showing that kindness:
- reduces employee burnout, turnover, and absenteeism
- improves employee well-being
- increases long-term job satisfaction
- improves employee productivity and efficiency
- fosters a culture of innovation and collaboration
The HBR article specifically addressed the challenges businesses face trying to build or maintain kind workplaces during a global pandemic—in circumstances where many workers are overwhelmed by the demands of family and remote working conditions, where they may experience isolation and a sense of disconnection from their colleagues, and where the thought of one more Zoom meeting sends shivers down the sturdiest of spines.
The study’s authors cite the loss of “serendipitous encounters” as one reason why joy may be declining in workplaces. This delightful term is one I was unfamiliar with. Serendipitous encounters include such experiences as “water cooler” interactions, chance hallway meetings, and coffee breaks with colleagues. These seemingly small exchanges are often where an employee is told “thank you” by a colleague, or where a manager says “great job” about a recent task or presentation. Employees often recount these as the highlights of their work day. They warm our hearts and increase our job satisfaction and sense of connection. And they are easily lost when our connections are through Zoom, email, texts, and hurried conversations muffled by masks.
But they don’t have to be. The article offers a simple remedy: kindness. In particular, it recommends practicing kindness by giving sincere compliments. There is considerable power in the simple—but genuine—compliment. It engenders social connection. It feels good to receive them . . . and, research shows, even better to give them. Compliments translate to long-term job satisfaction.
People are sometimes hesitant to give compliments. They worry that they will appear awkward or clumsy in delivering the compliment, they mistakenly underestimate how much their compliment would be appreciated by the recipient, and they worry that their effort might be misinterpreted . . . and so, they hesitate, and the moment is lost.
To make compliments a staple of the workplace, the effort needs to begin at the top. The study’s authors note that, “By giving compliments and praising their employees, leaders are likely to motivate team members to copy their behavior and create norms of kindness in teams.”
They add that when people receive an act of kindness, such as a compliment, “they pay it back—and not just to the same person, but often to someone entirely new.” A culture of generosity is soon created, and when that happens, businesses experience greater success.
As we return to a world that looks a bit more like the one we knew before March of 2020, let’s be intentional about what we want to cultivate in our workplaces. Let’s all seek opportunities for serendipitous encounters and, when in doubt, err on the side of kindness.
Why not start today with a sincere compliment to someone in your circle of friends, family, or business colleagues? Or even a stranger with whom you cross paths.
By the way, you have already brightened the world today with your presence.
“I can live for two months on a good compliment.” (Mark Twain)