Caring and compassion offer employee engagement and health benefits
Kindness in the workplace has sometimes been perceived as weakness. But top management thinkers are beginning to tout it as an overlooked tool for productivity—and scientific evidence supports their view. It seems that a culture of caring and compassion can build employee engagement, reduce staff down time and even keep us all healthier!
Kindness at work starts with taking a look at your corporate culture. Is your workplace the kind where supervisors routinely say thank you and let people know when they’ve done a good job? Does it encourage collegiality and discourage negative gossiping? Do employees feel safe to offer suggestions, and are their good ideas heard, acknowledged and sometimes implemented?
But acts of kindness at work can take innumerable forms—from an unexpected treat to an offer to share an unpopular task to anti-bullying policies. And, no matter how it’s composed, a culture of kindness can apparently improve employee engagement. In a 2015 article titled ”Is Kindness the Missing Link to Employee Performance?”, research and organizational development specialist Dan Schwartz advises workers to “be kind to your fellow employees and commit random acts of kindness to decrease stress in the workplace and increase productivity.”
Schwartz isn’t talking fairy dust and unicorn magic; he cites an international Forbes study that establishes “a positive correlation between high stress and low employee engagement” and finds that “highly stressed employees took nearly twice as many sick days as low-stress employees”.
When you consider that a recent Circadian report estimates that addressing absenteeism can save “a company of 5,000 hourly employees … over $7.9 million per year, or 3.2% of total payroll”, buying the occasional cup of coffee or bunch of flowers starts to look like a pretty good investment.
The CanadaOne article “Kindness as a Superior Approach to Human Resources Management” identifies 3 ways for a leader to look at workplace kindness: within the community (community service and charity work), with colleagues (including “activities designed to eliminate racism and sexual harassment”), and with oneself. This third item is especially interesting; it turns out that performing an act of kindness actually has physiological effects on the good-deed-doer that can protect their health.
Employees and their leaders alike often have trouble balancing self-care with workplace productivity, but the two go hand-in-hand. In his article ”The 5 Side Effects of Kindness”, David Hamilton (author of Why Kindness is Good for You and The Contagious Power of Thinking) explains how this works.
When we do something kind or generous, he writes, the levels of dopamine in the brain are elevated, which makes us feel good. But beyond that, the “emotional warmth” that accompanies a caring action produces a hormone called oxytocin that can reduce blood pressure and decrease levels of damaging free radicals and inflammation. It also stimulates the action of the vagus nerve, which similarly affects heart rate and inflammation levels. So, it seems, kind deeds can actually protect your heart and slow the effects of aging.
There was a time when many managers believed that keeping employees under constant stress was the way to get the most work out of them. We know better now, and science bears out the idea that creating a culture of kindness is an effective way to improve productivity. And it feels a lot better too.