In a world where crime, violence, terrorism, racism, and politicians attacking one another dominate our newsfeed and conscience 24/7, the website Love What Matters celebrates the human spirit with stories and images that inspire us and bring us hope.

And inspired I was. On their Facebook feed I found a story that I hope will lift up your day. I'll explain the business context below, and how it may just transform your work culture and produce business impact.

The story is told by Hannah Easterson, an employee at Mill Creek University Book Store in Seattle. She writes:

"I work in a decent sized, local, indie bookstore. In the middle of the day this little old lady comes up. She's lovably kooky. Then this [college] kid comes up in line behind her. She turns around to him and, out of nowhere, demands that he put his textbooks on the counter. He's confused but she explains that she's going to buy his textbooks. He refuses and adamantly insists that she can't do that. She boldly takes them out of his hands, throws them on the counter and turns to me with an intense stare and tells me to put them on her bill. The kid at this point is practically in tears. He's confused and shocked and grateful. Then she turns to him and says 'you need chocolate.' She starts grabbing handfuls of chocolates and putting them in her pile. He keeps asking her 'why are you doing this?' She responds 'Do you like Harry Potter?' and throws a copy of the new Cursed Child on the pile too. Finally she's done and I ring her up for a crazy amount of money. While I'm bagging up her merchandise the kid hugs her. We're both telling her how amazing she is and what an awesome thing she's done. She turns to both of us and says probably one of the most profound, unscripted things I've ever had someone say: 'It's important to be kind. You can't know all the times that you've hurt people in tiny, significant ways. It's easy to be cruel without meaning to be. There's nothing you can do about that. But you can choose to be kind. Be kind.' [Note: I have edited it for length. Click here for the entire version]

The research on kindness. Yes, it makes business sense.

Managers often think that putting pressure on employees will drive performance. Actually, what it does is it turns your workplace into a pressure cooker that increases stress and leads to turnover. In fact, 52 percent of employees report that workplace stress has caused them to search for new employment, turn down a promotion, or quit.

The alternative is for the business world to start listening to science. Plenty of research suggests that when companies create an environment of kindness and compassion lived out in corporate values daily, they will see a happier workplace and an improved bottom line.

Kindness "elevates" a culture of kindness.

The research of Jonathan Haidt at New York University says that if I watch a co-worker help another co-worker, it heightens a sense of well-being in me. This is something Haidt calls "elevation." And when I feel elevated by seeing an act of kindness, I am more likely to behave with kindness. Kindness begets kindness and spreads like wildfire. Imagine the possibilities of such a culture of work?

Kindness pumps up employee morale and boosts customer service.

When employees are friendly and personable, help each other out, and the working atmosphere is pleasant and not fear-based, employees not only provide better customer service on their own accord, without prompting, but they also develop better relationships at work. As a result, this study indicates, productivity levels go up.

Kindness increases happiness.

My Inc. colleague Peter Economy referenced research conducted by psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky at University of California, Riverside. Students in her study that were assigned five random acts of kindness per week for a period of six weeks actually increased their levels of happiness by 41 percent.

Kindness in work relationships is great for the brain.

Judith Glaser, CEO of Benchmark Communications and author of Creating WE, says our brains are actually hard-wired to respond to kindness and trust: "When someone is kind and respectful to us, our brains produce more oxytocin and dopamine, which helps us relax, feel open to others, and be more sharing and cooperative," says Glaser.

That begs the question: Why don't we see more kindness at work?

Why aren't more decision-makers jumping on this bandwagon, if it means creating healthier, happier, and more loyal and committed employees who produce better work which translate to more profit?

The truth is found in one word: weakness.

Kindness is not perceived as a business strength. And fear of appearing "weak" still permeates the ethos of traditional hierarchical thinking.

Published on: Sep 7, 2016
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