Workplace kindness can be hit-or-miss or a cultivated corporate value. When it's there, people work harder.
kindness have a proper place at the office? Or is it found mostly on a
stool in the corner with a small but definite dunce cap?
On the one hand, employees might be inspired by the likes of the Dalai Lama, who said, "This is my simple religion—Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness." On the other hand, the Dalai Lama never had to make his numbers.
Kindness, it turns out, is controversial.
is not a word I would use in my trainings," one executive development
coach insists. "The leaders at the level on which I work don't relate to
it, because it describes a social value. The closest we come is an
emphasis on creating a respectful workplace, avoiding sexual harassment, racial intolerance, or gender bias."
of course, but not exactly the tender offer of kindness. Perhaps it's
that very sense of tenderness that gives kindness its image problem. One
female litigator described her own wariness regarding warm civility:
"If a male is pleasant and easy to work with, he's regarded as a nice
guy. But if I extend opposing counsel a common courtesy, say, on a
scheduling matter where he has a legitimate conflict, I am often seen as
a pushover, and that works against my client's interests. I can't
afford to be seen as a pleaser."
One CEO vigorously defended his
own check on compassion: "I'd love to be able to step in and hand a
valued employee some cash because I've heard his wife got laid off and I
know he needs the money. But people aren't discreet about that kind of
thing; they tell. And then every other employee wonders why I didn't do
the same for him or her."
You could argue that the milk of human
kindness is pretty much curdled at the office when it stirs images of
weakness, naivete, self-promotion, or self-defense. All the downsides
notwithstanding, there is a strong current of kindness stubbornly
running through some workplaces. And where it flows, people smile more.
They work harder, too.
In their book, Leading with Kindness,
William Baker and Michael O'Malley contend that corporate kindness
positively impacts profits. They identify six qualities of kind
managers—compassion, integrity, gratitude, authenticity, humility, and humor—and believe a kind management style improves employee performance and retention.
Depending on how you define it, kindness can be seen as an individual character trait,
present or not as a function of who works where. "Some guys are just
total pricks," says a manufacturing rep. "They wouldn't say hello to an
entry level associate or look at the cleaning lady. But they would do a
favor for a client."
The provost of a local college spoke
admiringly of the school's president. "He's just a terrific guy who is
genuinely interested in the well-being of people. He knows the life
story of everyone in the building. He makes everyone feel valued."
kindness can just as readily be a corporate cultural value, one to be
supported or snuffed out depending upon the attitude of the people on
top. Said one veteran of five top financial firms, "These companies
were not identical in their basic human spirit. If you had one of those
badass guys at the top, the signal was clear: Do whatever it takes.
Losers will be bounced out. Winners will be rewarded. Kindness was just
something that got in the way.
"When a decent guy ran the ship, it filtered through, made us more willing to collaborate with each other. It was better for business, not to mention morale. But better or worse, the CEO sets the emotional tone."
climate control has its impact, but so does specific strategy. Kindness
has found its place as a training tool and as a team-building approach.
One physician referred to the importance of correcting staff error in a
kind, sensitive fashion. "We try to prevent mistakes. But when they
happen, they have to be addressed immediately. I'm a hyper guy, but when
I review a staff error I deliberately calm down and give that nurse or
that resident a chance to explain her error. If I'm too mad, I take time
to get it together. Then we go over the correct course. I'm conscious
of mentioning something they've done right recently, so we can end the
conversation on a positive note."
This same physician sees
kindness as a simple staff development strategy. "It's my job to make
the people who work for me happy; if they're happy, they'll work harder.
So I do stuff like bring them doughnuts, send out for lunch. I make
sure to tell them how often my patients say they love you guys, how much
the sick people appreciate their efforts."
A lot of people would be happier if they worked for him.
definition of workplace kindness has its own truth, but all have a
common thread. Kindness is a step beyond respect or fair play, a step
out in front of the corporate policy manual. It is personal, thoughtful,
and—for want of a better word—caring. And it exists at the office.
I offer anecdotal proof, reported by a senior marketing
division manager: "I worked for 10 years at a Fortune 100 firm. When my
husband was dying, the CEO called me in and said, 'Go take care of your
family. Your job will be here. You've taken care of us all these years.
Let us take care of you.'" Chainsaw Al Dunlap took that company over
five years later.
Calling for Kindness
Yes, work is about making
money—that's why it's called work. But money and humanity do not have to
be mutually exclusive. Call on your kinder side:
- In times
of emotional distress. You may not know what's wrong, but tuning into
the folks around you will probably reveal when something is amiss. An
appreciative remark, a supportive comment helps.
- When giving
negative feedback. "I'm just being honest" or "I'm just as hard on
myself" are clues to add kindness to your management style.
When giving a sensitive personal review. A worker's hygiene problem or
slovenly work area needs to be addressed, but keep your awkwardness from
- In times of personal emergency. People
generally need three times the recovery time we grant them. Patience and