The Science Behind Smiles
There is real scientific evidence recognizing the benefits of smiling. A Fast Company article explored how smiling alters our brains (in a good way). A Penn State University study revealed that smiling people are perceived as more courteous, likeable and competent. All attributes that are valued in the workplace by employers, co-workers and clients.
Smiling has the power to improve your mood and reduce stress – it’s hard for people to frown around smiling people (researchers at Sweden’s Uppsala University found this to be true). But why is this? Turns out that our brains actually track our smiling which can then break our natural tendency to think negative thoughts. If you smile often enough, you end up rewiring your brain to make positive patterns more often than it does negative ones.
Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage that we can practice thinking patterns that are positive and create new happiness loops. This can cause us to feel more energetic and be more successful. But it’s not automatic, Achor says:
“Happiness is a work ethic… It’s something that requires our brains to train just like an athlete has to train.”
Build Workplace Kindness by Encouraging Smiles
It turns out that both kindness and rudeness are contagious.
Research on our brain’s mirror neurons conducted by UCLA scientist Marco Iacoboni, showed that when you see someone else smile, the mirror neurons in your brain respond as though you were smiling yourself.
Business.com outlined the merits of embracing kindness and rejecting rudeness at work. Christine Porath, writing for Harvard Business Review, explored the harm that rudeness can have on organizations. She learned that if when people are exposed to rudeness they are three times less likely to help other people and less inclined to help others. This incivility can spread like an infection, leading to insults and negative attitudes.
Conversely, the Business.com article reported:
“Practicing kindness in the workplace goes a long way for everyone involved. Not only does it result in happier, more engaged employees, but businesses benefit from lower employee absenteeism rates and enhanced productivity.”
Simple gestures like smiling, saying hello or offering help can improve everyone’s workday. Or take these additional steps suggested in the article:
- Clearly define the behaviors you expect employees to practice – identify behavior words to draw out the attitude you expect from employees (friendly, helpful, compassionate) and make sure how the definitions of those words align with your expectations.
- Respond rather than react – when confronted with distress at work, resist reacting impulsively and instead remain calm so employees or customers feel secure.
- Take time to show employees you care – learning about and understanding your employees’ histories and work styles will show you care and help you to make informed decisions that are calm and consistent.
Fake It ‘Til You Make
Just not feeling it some days? The good news is that a fake smile can actually be as beneficial as a genuine smile. A Forbes article about fake smiles being beneficial, shares research that proves that smiling even when you’re not feeling happy can still reduce stress and boost your mood. While a full smile (“Duchenne smiles” are full smiles which involve facial muscles around the eyes which produce a change in brain activity that corresponded with a happier mood) are the best, a fake smile can get the job done.
Celebrate With a Smile
Some fun ways to encourage smiling and inspire workplace kindness:
- Snap photos of your employees smiling and display the pics in the office (see above photo thanks to Smile.oi)
- Have a best smile contest – and celebrate everyone as a winner with a gift certificate for a treat (gThankYou’s Pie or Candy Gift Certificates are welcome and practical options)
- Hang a poster or white board that reads “What makes me smile…” and have staff write what makes them smile or encourage colleagues to bring in photo’s of their life outside of work
- Share an unexpected, fun gift such as fake Million dollar bill and a note, “Thanks a Million for all you do”, a bag of Extra gum with a note saying “Thanks for always going the EXTRA mile for us”, or a happy-themed mug with a “Thanks for your infectious smile!” note.
- Encourage smiles and laughter by inviting employees to share their favorite funny YouTube videos or memes
- Send employees out in the community to randomly share Hersey’s Candy Bars with a “Smile; You are Appreciated Note” and watch the contagious nature of smiling and kindness bloom!
Use This Tool to Find More Reasons to Smile
The gThankYou annual calendar is jam-packed with insights into the latest HR trends, how-to tutorials for engaging and thanking employees, case studies to inspire you, examples of holidays to celebrate each month, and research statistics to help you make the business case for appreciation.
Download yours FREE now and start nurturing workplace kindness today!
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