27 September 2023

Pay it forward: Benefits of the kindness dividend

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Sonia McDonald* describes recent research that has confirmed small acts of kindness have profoundly positive effects on workplace culture.

When you think of traditional office culture, there are many things that are given importance above being kind.

In fact, kindness isn’t even on the radar a lot of the time.

Being competitive, confident (almost to the point of being arrogant), and other not-so-positive traits are idolised, because they are often associated with success.

This is the culture that leads to toxicity.

Poor communication, teamwork and productivity are the results when this version of ‘success’ is pushed to the forefront.

The good news is that this tide is changing, and it’s becoming less and less acceptable to act this way in the workplace.

The focus is now on being authentic, courageous and kind — and with good reason.

Being kind isn’t hard to do, and it has incredible results.

A recent study aimed to show how even the smallest acts of kindness in a workplace have a ripple effect, making the environment and culture more positive.

Essentially, it shows that kindness begets kindness, and helps it spread.

Mainly female employees from the Madrid headquarters of Coca Cola were studied by University of California researchers.

For four weeks, they participated in what was called a ‘happiness study’.

They had to report once a week on their feelings around their satisfaction with life, their moods, and any behaviour, positive and negative, they experienced or exhibited in the workplace.

After these four weeks, the employees in the study had to rate their job satisfaction and happiness as well.

The catch of this study was that 19 of the employees were told to perform an act of kindness for their fellow workers who were outside the control group.

The ‘givers’ could do anything generous and kind, with even the smallest, simplest gesture counted.

What this study showed is that kindness has a profoundly positive effect on the workplace and its employees.

The kind things done by the ‘givers’ didn’t go unnoticed, with the receivers saying they felt much happier and more in control while at work.

Those who were participating as the ‘givers’ felt more satisfied in both their lives and their jobs, and even felt less depressed.

What does all this tell us? That kindness breeds happiness, confidence and a much more positive workplace culture and environment.

Doing kind acts and being kind in general, no matter how small or simple the gesture, improves both the giver’s and the receiver’s wellbeing.

Kindness also helps people cope with stressful conditions at work, and the other interesting thing is that kindness is catching.

As the kind acts increased, the behaviour also spread throughout the workplace, making the staff feel like they were cared about and looked after.

They wanted to reciprocate these kind acts, acknowledging the giver and looking to become a giver themselves.

Kindness benefits everyone, not just those involved in the kind act; it is catching, spreading through the workplace and improving the culture and environment.

Get your team together and discuss random acts of kindness with them.

Ask them if they have any ideas, whether small or large, and offer up your own examples.

Encourage your employees to start doing these kind acts randomly from that point on.

It may take a while for the idea to take hold, as some may worry about coming off as disingenuous — but that’s why there should be an emphasis on small acts of kindness.

You don’t have to make grand sweeping gestures to be kind, even something as simple as bringing someone paperwork from the printer to save them getting up is a generous act.

Once the kindness campaign catches on, you’ll soon see the positivity and camaraderie growing.

Kindness is important in any workplace, so ask yourself how you can start making yours a kinder place.

*Sonia McDonald is the Chief Executive and founder of Brisbane-based LeadershipHQ. She can be contacted at soniamcdonald.com.au.

This article first appeared on LinkedIn.

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