The global economic downturn has created serious professional and personal issues for many people. Downsizing has meant there is more work to be done and fewer people to do it. Unemployment rates are at a high – God help you if you’re a new graduate trying to get a foot in the corporate door today. Job insecurity and financial pressures mean more people are sitting at their desks and/or working longer hours than ever before. Work life balance? Yeah right. All of this is causing us stress. In fact, last year, stress related illness accounted for 40% of all work related illness in the UK. The more stressed and unhappy we are, the less time we spend at work and the less productive we are overall. Companies, when they can, are responding by spending thousands on health and well-being programmes, employee engagement initiatives and non-financial incentive schemes. But the best solution might be as simple as showing your colleagues a little human kindness.
Despite, or because, of the current global recession and the media flurry reporting innumerable natural disasters, political turmoil, violent unrest and human indignities we have also seen an incredible outpouring of community and kindness in our society. Organized volunteerism is up, but most impressively we’ve begun to see a movement in day to day kindness among strangers, Random Acts of Kindness. This simple yet impactful movement could hold the key to improved happiness, well-being and productivity in the workplace.
Random Acts of Kindness transform from hippy dippy beginnings to mainstream life strategy
The idea of shaping one’s life around conducting random acts of kindness (RAoK) is not new. We’ve all learned the ancient rule paraphrased here, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” I can remember my grandmother teaching me about the importance of being neighbourly over 30 years ago. Mind you, her motivation wasn’t entirely philanthropic. Yes, she wanted to help because it was the right thing to do, but Nana didn’t mind if she gained a few kudo points with God in the bargain. But that was to be expected right? In fact, for years, if you were spotted talking about RAoK you were automatically labelled as religious, airy fairy or just uncool. Yet, decades after those childhood talks with Nana, the tide of opinion has definitely changed. Being kind is the new cool.
I first came upon the current RAoK ‘movement’ after comedian Danny Wallace wrote about his experiences in Join Me (2002) and Random Acts of Kindness (2004). Wallace accidentally attracted a large group of followers who answered a newspaper ad that said, “Join me”. Once joined up his new followers wanted to know what they were supposed to do. In desperation, Wallace instructed them to commit a RAoK once a week, then once a day. Thousands of people signed up and started making RAoK a deliberate part of their daily lives. Today, Twitter is alight with examples of RAoK from all over the world. American journalist Ann Curry started another swell of RAoK late last year. In honour of the 26 children and teachers killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT, Curry asked her Twitter followers to commit 26 Acts of Kindness and tweet about them using hashtag #26Acts. The response has been phenomenal.
Paying it Forward pays dividends for corporations and communities
More recently, another honorable philosophy of ‘Paying it Forward‘ has taken centre stage. Originally, the idea was that creditors would offer the debtor the option of paying the debt forward by lending or gifting it to a third party. This has morphed into buying something for the person in the queue behind you. We’ve seen inspiring examples at Christmas time, where customers pay for part or all of the items a stranger has left on lay away because they couldn’t afford them all in one go. Just this month, Starbuck’s became the first British chain to sign up to the Suspended Coffee Campaign. A coffee becomes ‘suspended’ when a customer pays for a cup that will lie in virtual wait for someone who isn’t able to afford it. Initiated in Naples Italy, it is important to note that small and large coffee houses are providing this service all over the world. Good for them I say.
Being kind is proven to be good for you and everyone around you
So why do so many people, all over the world, commit RAoK? Because it feels good. Not just emotionally, but physically too. In one study, Emory University neuroscientists James Rilling and Gregory Berns found that the act of helping another person triggers activity in the caudate nucleus and anterior cingulate cortex regions of the brain, the parts involved in pleasure and reward. That is, serving others may produce the same sort of pleasure as gratifying a personal desire. Social advocate Allen Luk calls it the Helper’s High. Luk’s research concluded that regular helpers are 10 times more likely to be in good health than people who don’t volunteer. And there’s an actual biochemical explanation: volunteering reduces the body’s stress and also releases endorphins, the brain’s natural painkillers.
It’s clear then why conducting a RAoK is becoming so much a part of our daily lives. Doing something kind for others makes us feel good, and probably creates a bit of surplus kindness credit out in the universe just waiting for us when we need it most. We’re doing RAoK for friends, family and strangers, but there seems to be a whole group of people we expect kindness from but rarely remember to share it with – our co-workers.
Conscious kindness at work: A business strategy for prosperity and humanity
A recent global survey conducted by Accenture, found that almost 60% of workers are dissatisfied with their jobs. Yet, in the same study, only 30% said they plan to leave their current jobs. That leaves too many unhappy workers getting paid to physically show up at work, while their minds and emotions spend energy wishing they were somewhere else. And Warwick Business School tells us that happy workers are more productive – about 12% more productive to be exact. Conversely, unhappy workers are 10% less productive. So it seems the answer is obvious. Let’s bring RAoK to work. Like it or loathe it, we spend more time with our co-workers than we do with anyone else in our lives. How different could your work experience be with a little more kindness in the mix? How could that kindness translate to customer experience? Think about how great it felt when your colleague spontaneously offered to help you finish those calls so you could leave the office in time to catch dinner with your friends. Remember how great it felt when you said hello to that shy colleague and their whole face brightened and they started sharing ideas. RAoK are free, almost effortless and their ROI is priceless.
Random Acts at Work #ActsAtWork: A new revolution for the 21st century workplace
The best part in this revolution- you have all the control. No waiting around for your bosses, clients or the guy sitting next to you to start treating you with a little compassion. Committing RAoK is contagious. Once you start it, everyone around you starts doing it too – your very own Butterfly Effect. Start your #ActsAtWork revolution today and be sure to share your actions with others. Seeing people getting involved gives confidence to others to do the same. Use the comment boxes below and tweet using hashtag #ActsAtWork. Let us know all about the RAoK you get up to at work and how they’ve benefited you and your recipient. Let’s see if together, we can create a new workplace revolution encouraging compassion, support and positivity for success. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Shake hands and say good morning to everyone you share an office with
- Offer to stay a little later one night so one of your colleagues can go home a little earlier
- Give out lollipops to everyone who visits your desk, just because
- Bring in a picnic lunch for your colleague who’s saving money for his honeymoon
- Send hand written thank you cards to each of your mentors/mentees letting them know exactly what you’ve learned from them and how it’s helped you
- Buy a bunch of flowers and leave a stem on each colleague’s desk
- Offer to assist the colleague with the most thankless tasks – even though it’s not in your job description
- Email your colleague to tell thank them for a job well done and cc the boss
- Ask how they are and wait to hear their answer – all of it
- Say hello to an unknown colleague walking down the corridor instead of staring eyes down