February 11, 2010, 11:18 AM — It's that time of year again—when hearts become the decoration of choice and there seems to be pink and red everywhere you turn. The time of year when heart-shaped candy abounds, and we are all encouraged to show some love to those we love—our spouse, significant other, secret crush, family members, coworkers, etc. Wait. Even our coworkers? Yes. The one group we often neglect to show much love to could use a dose in these hard times, and Valentine's Day provides the perfect opportunity to spread some kindness around the workplace.
Maybe it's because of those tiny little cards we used to hand out at school, but I always think of my coworkers on Valentine's Day. Obviously it's great to show love to your sweetie, kids, family, and friends but infusing some kindness where we spend much of our time—work—can go a long way.
Unfortunately, at a time when many are worried about doing everything they can to keep their jobs, the general mood at many workplaces is pretty somber. Kindness can make our work a little easier, the days go just a little faster, and everything just a little bit better.
It's crazy to think just how unkind we can be to our coworkers. After all, if you are all working in the same place, even if you might be in different departments, you are essentially on the same team. You are all working toward the same goals. The in-fighting and just general nastiness or indifference for one another that can pop up in workplaces affects everyone negatively. It breaks us down as individuals and as teams. It is impossible to think that our lack of kindness doesn't affect the work environment. The reason most people leave jobs is either because of their boss or their coworkers. Trust me, kindness can make a difference with team members.
If kindness is lacking at your workplace, here are a few simple ways you can start a kindness revolution at your organization:
Lead by example. If you are the leader at your organization, you need to heed the call. Tell your team that you are making kindness a focus. Pledge to be kind to everyone you encounter from vendors to clients to colleagues. Give your permission to call you on it when you forget your pledge. Note that if a lack of kindness has been a problem at your organization for a while, you might have to slowly introduce the practice. After all, you wouldn't want your coworkers to walk in one day and think that you've been brainwashed. Try one kindness initiative at a time—for example, regularly saying thank you or offering to help a coworker at least once a day—and see if you can get the kindness bug to spread.
Put an end to petty criticism. Boy, are we tough on each other! We criticize just about everybody and everything. We talk about one another's hair, clothes, cars, etc. We scrutinize every little word and laugh at each other's mistakes. Isn't it time we give each other a break? I think too many of us slip into negativity as a default behavior at work. We hear others being negative so we join in to stay out of the crossfire. We all need to remind ourselves to stay out of that negativity and instead be kind, nice, and thoughtful.
Laurie Round, a good friend of mine and a nursing director in a large hospital, came up with a great way to do just that. She got tired of hearing all the negative talk from the team members reporting to her, and after hearing her pastor speak one Sunday about the consequences of an untamed tongue, she decided to do something about it. And being that she works at a hospital she found she had a great tool right at her fingertips…tongue depressors!
She wrote scripture on a few of them that pertained to the tongue and/or negative words and showed them to her staff and pointed out that there seemed to be an accepted culture of unkindness within the unit. Then she asked her staff members to write their own messages regarding the power of negative words on blank tongue depressors. Whenever they felt an unkind comment coming to the surface, they could pull out their tongue depressor and stick it in their mouth or give it to a coworker who had failed to tame her tongue. And slowly but surely, the culture of the unit began to change. Eventually it became one of camaraderie and mentorship. And the unit's associate satisfaction scores rose to the top percentile the next quarter survey. It's amazing what a tongue depressor can do!
Welcome new employees with open arms. Often it's the new guy who gets the most abuse at work. It's interesting that organizations can be short-staffed with everyone putting in extra time and effort, just praying the boss hires someone to lessen the burden, and then when the new guy does start, he is welcomed with less than open arms. What is up with that? Try to remember what it was like on your first day. Then extend a little kindness the new person's way. Ask him about himself, his family, background, etc. Try to find things that he has in common with other team members. Sharing common experiences is a great way to bring someone into the fold.
Or follow a practice lauded by bestselling author Quint Studer. He suggests that you ask new employees about the difference between their old workplace and your organization. After 30 or 60 days, ask new employees if there are things they see that could be done differently. Remember, fresh eyes see new things. Consider the new member of a home improvement store who noted that the bathroom display rooms were not lit from the inside. He asked why and of course the answer was, “Well, we've just never done it that way.” So the new guy got the go ahead and wired a light fixture in the display room. Not only did it bring more attention to the display, but it also made the showers and sinks look better. See, listening to the new guy can help!
Recognize one another's strengths, not weaknesses. In many workplaces, kindness goes out the door when younger and older employees must work together. Young employees get frustrated when their older colleagues can't use the latest technology quickly and efficiently. And older workers become frustrated with their younger counterparts' different work ethic. The problem is that the parties on both sides of the age gap are focusing on what they view as the other's weakness. Leaders should encourage all of their employees to value what their teammates bring to the table. Remind everyone that there is a reason each of them was hired.
A great example for this is the case of Frannie Frugal. She was an older woman at a place where I used to work. That's a coworker-appointed nickname by the way! For years the business was very successful, and most of the people working there didn't worry about cost or expense. But Frannie, however, clipped coupons for office supplies, saved large mailing envelopes to reuse for interoffice mail, and turned down the thermostat at the end of the day. Her coworkers used to joke that she still lived in the Depression.
Then 2009 happened, and the business began to struggle. Next thing you knew everyone was looking for ways to cut costs. Suddenly, Frannie Frugal was the star. When asked for her thoughts on what could be done, she had a list a mile long (in addition to everything she was already doing). Her frugality was invaluable. My point is that if we quit snarking and actually pay attention, we can all learn a little from each other, which is sure to make for a kinder, more productive workplace.
Be nice to the "others." Many organizations suffer from intra-office turf wars. What results is departmental teams that are sometimes outright nasty to one another—the Sales team can't stand Purchasing. Purchasing can't stand the Warehouse. No one gets along with IT and on and on!
Teams seem to think that anyone not working in their department is sitting in their office, feet up on the desk, eating bon-bons. It's hard to work well together when you have such negative views of the other party's work ethic. But the reality is everybody works hard. Try a little kindness with the people who work in other divisions. You might be surprised how it actually makes things better for you.
I heard a story once about an IT team that used to provide keyboard clean-ups for all departments at its organization. They divided the organization up amongst their staff and devised a schedule whereby every department would be visited quarterly for a good, safe cleaning of all the keyboards in their area. People were delighted, and pretty soon, they started thinking of the crew from IT as actual human beings instead of geeks, nerds, or arrogant know-it-alls. Once people started chatting face-to-face, great things happened. People were nicer when they called the IT help desk, and the IT people were more patient when listening to their coworkers' problems. So instead of assuming no one is working as hard as you and your team, assume everyone is working just as hard as you are. Soon your attitude about them will start to change and you will all be able to work together more cohesively and effectively.
My dad gave my sister the best marriage advice, when he reminded her on her wedding day, “Be kind to each other.” I think it is the best relationship advice ever spoken.
Kindness is not difficult. It doesn't require any money, any training, any real effort, and you can start right away either individually or as a team. That is the beauty of it! We spend around 2,000 hours a year with our coworkers. Given how much time we spend with them, a little bit of kindness can really go a long way. By committing ourselves to kindness, starting today, we can really make a difference where we work. So this Valentine's Day, be kind!