Article by Dr. Pragya Agarwal
Kindness is not always seen as a priority in the workplace, especially as it can contrast with the traditional image of a successful entrepreneur. Haven’t we been told that “nice people finish last?” Office culture can be cutthroat and competitive, leading to hurtful criticism, lack of collaboration, and miscommunication.
However, now we are increasingly talking about wellbeing in the workplace, and bringing an authentic quality to our work, being gentle with ourselves, and with others around us.
A new study in the journal Emotion looks at acts of kindness within a real-life working environment and shows how kindness really does create a positive ripple that affects the whole workplace culture. This study has shown that generosity and kindness propagates and spreads. The researchers from the University of California studied workers from Coca Cola’s Madrid headquarters. The study group consisted of mostly female employees from a range of departments. Participants were told they were part of a happiness study, and once a week for four weeks, they checked in to report how they were feeling, in terms of mood and life satisfaction, and their experience of positive and negative behaviors. This included how many they had carried out towards others, and how many others had made towards them. Four weeks later, the participants completed further measures, such as happiness and job satisfaction. There was a catch—19 of the participants were instructed by researchers to be the “givers,” where each week they performed some act of kindness towards some of their co-workers, who were not part of this control group. It was up to the altruistic group as to what generous acts they performed, and these included relatively simple things that we can often take for granted, such as bringing someone a drink and emailing a thank-you note.
After about a month, the study shows that the acts of kindness don’t go unnoticed, and it had a huge impact on the overall positivity in the workplace, and on the employees’ sense of wellbeing. The people who received kindness through the 4 weeks reported a sense of camaraderie. In addition, the receivers felt in control at work and reported significantly higher levels of happiness. The acts of kindness, however small and insignificant they might have seemed acted as a buffer even during a period of stress, and difficult work conditions. Even the control group, those 19 people who were part of the control group, enjoyed higher levels of life satisfaction and job satisfaction, and fewer depressive symptoms. They also felt more autonomous, and more competent in their workplace. Therefore, evidence suggests we feel happier when spending money on others than ourselves, and acts of kindness increase not only the receivers but also the giver’s sense of wellbeing, autonomy, and competence.
The most interesting aspect of the study was to show that such acts of kindness are also contagious. So, there was an increasing amount of “prosocial” behavior with employees feeling that they were part of a unit and a workplace that looked after them and cared about them. People not only reciprocated the acts of kindness by taking the initiative to find out who had been kind to them but also paid it forward to others, thereby spreading the feeling of generosity. An additional side-advantage of this was that people were being more creative in how they could show their kindness and generosity, thereby making the employees think outside the box, and exercise creative thinking.
This study, therefore, shows that small acts of kindness not only benefit the receiver, but also the giver and the whole organization, thereby creating a positive workplace culture.
To start off with, organizations can introduce a Random Acts of Kindness Week, running from February 9 to February 15—but this doesn’t have to be so prescriptive. It can be introduced at any time. By performing random acts of kindness on a regular basis, each individual can improve their social and communication skills so positively that it may indeed contribute to the overall culture.
Practicing gratitude is not difficult, although, in our culture of fast-paced digital communication, it can take conscious effort to remember to practice seemingly old-fashioned gratitude, and express in in our communication. When we communicate via digital apps and platforms, often rushing and writing quick messages, a lack of personal interaction allows us to say things we might never say to someone in face-to-face conversations. We do not see someone’s facial expressions or hear the inflections in their voice, which can often provide us with numerous cues in social interactions. This can breed confusion and misunderstanding. Although today as more and more people work remotely, it can be difficult to organize this, but if more of the feedback and communication can happen through e-meeting places which include audio and video, it can help in avoiding some of the confusion caused by digital communication. It has also been found that people are likely to be kinder and practice more gratitude when they see and hear the other person.
Making kindness a priority in the workplace will create a more inclusive workplace culture, one where people feel a sense of belonging, and wellbeing.