Random Acts of Kindness Week is here! Last week we looked at how random acts of kindness make good business sense. This week, we’ll be digging into the practical application of kindness in the workplace.
All week, the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation is urging everyone to flood social media with kindness using the hashtag #RAKWeek2015.
You could share an uplifting news story, an inspiring quote, a photo that captures the spirit of kindness or an anecdote of a kindness you received. The foundation will be tracking social media streams for the #RAKWeek2015 hashtag and has a goal of 100,000 #RAKWeek2015 incidents of kindness by Feb. 15.
What motivates us to be kind? Love, sympathy, empathy, friendship and teamwork are all great reasons to be kind, but what about kindness sparked by a random or anonymous kind deed, with no expectation of payback?
We call this type of kindness “paying it forward”: when someone pays a kindness forward after being the recipient of one. It’s fascinating from a social psychology standpoint because paying it forward seems to operate outside our understanding of rational human behavior.
Read on to find out how pay-it-forward culture works, how it starts and why it belongs in your workplace.
How Pay-It-Forward Culture Works
News stories of people who pay it forward captivate us because they disrupt the notion of inherent human selfishness (which, as we’ll get to later, doesn’t align with the latest behavioral science, anyway).
Search online for news tagged “pay it forward” and you’ll find popular articles from around the world of people who were kind just because.
Paying it forward can be a small act of kindness on an individual-to-individual level, like the Post-It notes that cover the wall of a Philadelphia pizzeria. Each Post-It is a $1 coupon purchased by customers to help cover the cost of a slice for homeless people seeking a meal.
Paying it forward can also be big-scale and institutional, like the new “Pay It Forward Pilot Program” in New Jersey that could make tuition more affordable for students at the state’s public colleges and universities. A similar plan for training workers is under discussion in South Carolina.
And at Alaska Airlines, paying it forward seems to be the company’s policy when it comes to handling a polite passenger with a special need.
We love stories of people trying to do the right thing with kindness because they’re a refreshing break from the usual barrage of depressing news in the media.
There’s an additional positive side-effect to reading news stories of paying it forward or to being a bystander during an act of kindness: it make us kinder.
This has pretty big implications for workplace culture, because it means kindness isn’t a trait that must be cultivated in employees one by one, but can grow on a community-wide scale from just one act of kindness.
The “Spark” to Pay-It-Forward Culture
An act of kindness is like a spark that ignites a fire. If you’re looking to cultivate a workplace culture of kindness, company leaders will need to tend to it like a campfire — but, like a campfire that only needs one match to start, kindness has a way of sustaining itself.
Even typically negative influences in the workplace — conformity, gossip — can be used to spread kindness, according to an Inc. interview with Milena Tsvetkova, a Cornell doctoral candidate studying “spontaneous generosity.”
“Sometimes, in a closed environment, all you need is one persistent altruist that anonymously keeps on giving, and gossip,” she says.
“That could be enough to get one of these chains going. People don’t know it’s the same individual being generous. They think, ‘Others do favors around here, and I should do it, too.'”
Why Your Workplace Needs a Pay-It-Forward Culture
Helping others proactively may be selfless, but it stems from a strong human instinct for survival and community health, according to Psychology Today writer Glenn Geher, Ph.D.
“Paying it forward is seen positively in social communities,” Geher writes. “It helps people develop reputations as altruists or helpers or, more simply, folks whom can be relied upon.”
“Without question, such a reputation is adaptive and leads to positive outcomes (even if indirectly) for the individual who chooses to pay it forward,” he concludes.
Steve Blank, a Silicon Valley veteran entrepreneur, has written about the “Pay It Forward Culture” of the tech industry there. It exists even among competitors, he says, thanks to a “we’re in this together” attitude that hasn’t been lost even as the tech industry has mushroomed in recent decades.
His advice to CEOs and other business leaders is to share freely with the next generation and to lead by example. A consistent pay-it-forward message from your organization’s leaders — backed by consistent pay-it-forward actions — has the power to transform the retention, happiness, dedication and engagement of employees.
Random Acts of Kindness Week is an ideal time to engage leadership and employees together in a conversation about “paying it back” and “paying it forward.” Encourage participation in the #RAKWeek2015 kindness campaign to spark that conversation.
Celebrations like Random Acts of Kindness Week are an important part of building workplace gratitude. For a comprehensive guide to growing a sustained workplace culture of happiness and appreciation, download our FREE eBook: Transform Your Workplace with Gratitude.
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