Random Acts of Kindness Week starts in just a few days! Are you ready?
We love RAK Week as an opportunity for employee engagement: it’s fun, it’s positive and it connects people in a genuine, memorable way. Celebrate it in the workplace and also with the greater community using the #RAKWeek2017 hashtag on social media.
Workplace kindness is something we all could use a little more of — incivility at work is “rampant” and on the rise, according to Christine Porath.
Porath is associate professor of management at Georgetown University and author of the new book, “Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace.”
Lack of kindness has real psychological and bottom-line costs in the workplace, according to Porath’s research. It’s also commonplace. In 2011 half of surveyed employees said they were treated rudely at least once a week, up from a quarter in 1998.
Porath’s findings are the result of 14 years of research polling thousands of workers at every level in a wide variety of industries about how they’re treated on the job. It’s eye-opening stuff.
And it’s not all doom and gloom: Porath is also in a unique position to offer perspective on how to make our workplaces kinder. In anticipation of Random Acts of Kindness Week, let’s take a closer look at Porath’s work and the science behind building workplace kindness.
The Consequences of Incivility
On a personal level, it’s easy to understand the emotional costs of rude behavior — we all know how infuriating and degrading it feels to be the recipient, and conversely, the aggravation that causes our own rudeness (and the guilt that follows).
But what about on an organizational scale?
“We’ve collected data from more than 14,000 people throughout the United States and Canada in order to track the prevalence, types, causes, costs and cures of incivility at work. We know two things for certain: Incivility is expensive, and few organizations recognize or take action to curtail it,” Porath and her research partner Christine Pearson write for Harvard Business Review.
Incivility drains organizations in many ways, the research found:
- It feeds a culture of retaliation.
- It stunts creativity and productivity.
- It increases turnover as employees who feel disrespected “get fed up and leave.”
- It drives customers away.
“People are less likely to buy from a company with an employee they perceive as rude, even if the rudeness isn’t directed at them,” Porath and Pearson write. “Witnessing just a single unpleasant interaction leads customers to generalize about other employees, the organization and even the brand.”
Moreover, dealing with the aftermath of rude behavior and mending employee relationships is costly.
“HR professionals say that just one incident can soak up weeks of attention and effort,” the researchers write.
What Your Organization Can Do to Be Kinder
Turning around a culture of incivility into one of respect, kindness and compassion takes “constant vigilance,” according to Porath. But the payoff is worth it: motivated and productive employees, happy customers, a good reputation in the community.
And like incivility, kindness spreads easily. So once you set the tone with company leadership and commit to it, kindness will naturally spread across the organization.
Here are six ideas, based on Porath’s research, for increasing workplace kindness:
1. Teach Kindness
What is civil behavior? It isn’t always self-evident, Porath found. Many people who are rude don’t understand that their behavior is rude. For example, a manager who constantly checks her phone during meetings may believe she is keeping up with her obligation to be responsive. But others in the meeting are likely to perceive her behavior as disrespectful.
It’s possible to train for kinder behavior. Porath and Pearson suggest role-playing and video as good teaching tools, especially when paired with coaching. Have company leaders watch videos of themselves in various interactions “so they can observe their own facial expressions, posture, words and tone of voice.”
2. Hire for Kindness
Evaluate potential employees for the kind of social behavior you expect. One good way to do this is with group interviews. Invite team members to the interview and let them give input on their potential future colleagues.
3. Model Kindness
Bad behavior among rank-and-file employees is often a mirror of bad behavior among company leaders. “If employees see that those who have climbed the corporate ladder tolerate or embrace uncivil behavior, they’re likely to follow suit,” Porath and Pearson write.
Break the cycle with gratitude: “One way to help create a culture of respect and bring out your employees’ best is to express your appreciation. Personal notes are particularly effective, especially if they emphasize being a role model, treating people well and living the organization’s values.”
4. Open Up Lines of Communication
“You may need a reality check from the people who work for you,” according to Porath and Pearson. So ask for feedback and follow through on fixing commonly identified problem areas. (Asking anonymously for feedback may put employees at ease to open up — read more about the value of anonymous feedback in our blog post, “Boost Employee Happiness with Anonymous Feedback.”)
5. Track Your Progress
See how you’re progressing individually and as an organization by tracking behavior. Porath and Pearson give the example of an IT professional who wanted to break himself of a bad gossiping habit. He started tracking incidents when he disparaged colleagues behind their backs.
“It was a real eye-opener,” he said. Beyond changing his own behavior, he started seeing less incivility among coworkers: “I think that speaking up when colleagues or subordinates are rude can really make a difference. It puts them on alert that somebody is watching and cares how everyone is treated.”
6. Reward Kindness
Motivate kindness by rewarding it! “Collegiality should be a consideration in every performance review,” according to Porath and Pearson, “but many companies think only about outcomes and tend to overlook damaging behaviors.”
Teamwork and regular (or random!) acts of kindness should be the norm and deserve recognition. Online shoe seller Zappo’s is one company that has a reward system in place for employees who do the right thing. Significantly, Zappo’s empowers employees to recognize and thank each other for kindness and teamwork using gift cards or cash rewards.
How to Celebrate #RAKWeek2017
Excited to start spreading kindness in your organization? Prepare workplace activities for Random Acts of Kindness Week by visiting the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation website for activity ideas, tools (like logos and handouts) and everyday inspiration.
“Caring and acts of kindness are not just ‘nice things to do’ — this is a key trend showing a customer that you care like a friend, be that through face-to-face interaction or sharing such positive stories on social media,” according to the RealBusiness article, “Random Acts of Kindness as a Business Strategy.”
Be sure you’re sharing your organization’s random acts of kindness next week with the hashtag #RAKWeek2017!
Download Your FREE 2017 Employee Recognition Calendar
“In life, one has a choice to take one of two paths: to wait for some special day — or to celebrate each special day.” – Rasheed Ogunlaru, coach and author
Download the gThankYou 2017 Day-to-Day Employee Celebration Calendar for resources and advice to help your organization thrive this year. Our calendar guide gives you the tools and inspiration to build a culture of appreciation every day of the year. Download yours today, absolutely free!
Here’s to a happier workplace in 2017!
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