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By: Kelly Womer, APR, ABC, Fellow PRSA

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Apr 20, 2016 | Linhart Blog, Our Culture

Kinder Workplaces – Can They Be Contagious?

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More brands are embracing kindness as a way of doing business and doing good. KIND practices what’s on its snack bar label through a #kindawesome pay-it-forward program. Panera has four nonprofit Panera Cares community cafes that operate on a pay-what-you-can model to help raise awareness about hunger in the U.S. Other companies spearhead giving days or donations at the check-out counter.

But what about kindness in the workplace? It’s a topic that piqued my interest when I read a workplace column earlier this year about the concept that kindness and respect in the workplace may create happier employees and more productive organizations. It’s simple and logical, but why isn’t it more prevalent, the reporter and many readers wondered? Here are four ideas about why kindness matters and what can be done at work:

Anyone can practice kindness. It doesn’t require training workshops. It can be as simple as the Golden Rule we learned in grade school: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Kindness doesn’t have to be out-of-the-way, over-the-top gestures. It can be as simple as actively listening to someone – no agenda, no distractions; stopping gossip in its tracks when you hear it; offering to help a teammate who is working late, even if it’s not in your job description; or brewing the morning coffee for the team.

Kindness doesn’t mean weakness. There’s always a time, place and necessity for constructive feedback. It’s how we grow and learn. When deserved, there’s also a place for praise and compliments that reinforce and build positive behaviors and actions. Think of a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative feedback.

Kindness is encouraged from the top. At the “Compassion & Business” conference a few years ago at Stanford University, researchers discussed the psychology of kindness in the workplace. One scholar said that research on “emotional contagion shows that people are particularly likely to catch the emotions of their leaders.” Therefore, if the boss shows kindness, it can be contagious. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. For leaders, kindness needs to be consistent and shown in words and actions.

When you’re more aware of kindness, you see it and do it more. I have no empirical evidence on this, but it reminds me of theories I learned in my General Semantics college class. For example, when you’re thinking about buying a certain make and model of car, you suddenly start seeing more of them on the road. There really aren’t more Honda Accords than there were before, but your awareness and senses are heightened. Could the same be true about kindness? The challenge: Next week at work, be more aware of small acts of kindness. Do you see kindness more and appreciate it more – and maybe even do it more yourself?

Let us know: How is kindness encouraged, observed and put into practice in your workplace?

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