With Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey grabbing headlines these days for horrific workplace behavior, World Kindness Day--which is today--comes just in time. Science shows that kindness really matters, and there are plenty of random ways to show kindness at work. In this article, I focus on a specific brand of kindness.
No, not flirtation. (This isn't Valentine's Day.) Compassion.
First, let's explore the science-backed case for compassion. Research shows that it provides 11 workplace (and every-place) benefits:
1. It helps people feel valued.
Showing compassion communicates dignity and worth from one person to another.
2. It reduces anxiety and relieves job stress.
Grief isn't the only source of suffering in the workplace. Job stress, toxic bosses/employees, corrosive office politics, and organizational actions like downsizing and restructuring all contribute to anxiety and stress which elevate the need for compassion.
3. It elicits gratitude.
Think of how you feel when someone demonstrates true compassion towards you. You don't forget it.
4. It builds camaraderie.
Co-workers seem more humane and engender greater trust, the workplace as a whole seems more caring.
5. It heals (literally).
Feeling compassion from others allows people to recover physically from illness/bodily harm and psychologically from grief.
6. It increases feelings of capableness.
When someone receives compassion, they feel more supported in general and thus feel greater self-efficacy.
7. It aids in coping and the ability to carry on.
Compassion helps resume a sense of normalcy at work and strengthens the sufferer's resolve to get on with things.
8. It reduces compassion fatigue.
This applies to those in heavy-caregiving type roles (nurses, therapists, those who deal with customer complaints, etc.) People need to receive compassion to be able to continually give it.
9. It helps the giver.
Those giving compassion to others feel satisfaction from giving, they feel more caring, and interestingly, those who show compassion are consistently viewed to be better leaders.
10. It helps witnesses.
When bystanders view compassion in the workplace, they take greater pride in the organization and it triggers compassionate behavior in them as well.
11. It helps the organization.
A workplace with compassionate employees yields greater job commitment, stronger attachment to the organization, greater collaboration, and not to be forgotten, contributes to massive cost reduction. Estimates of job-stress-losses (absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, and medical, legal, and insurance costs) are an astonishing $300 billion a year.
That's a slam-dunk case for practicing compassion in the workplace.
So how do you practice it?
Again, science shows the way with these three steps:
1. Notice the suffering.
This is where many of us fall down, something all too easy to do too given the enormous pressures and deadlines we feel during the workday and our "own stuff" to worry about in general.
But demonstrating compassion starts with showing intention. Once you start developing the compassion muscle, you'll be shocked at how many opportunities there are to exercise it.
And remember the variety of forms that suffering can take in the workplace. Pay attention to body language, tone of voice, or unusual patterns.
2. Feel empathy.
Spot the issue. Feel the issue. If the first step involves intention, this step involves attention; paying attention to how you're feeling when you spot suffering in some form. In those moments, slow down, set your day aside for a moment, and allow yourself to feel care and concern--exactly the kind you'd appreciate were you the one suffering.
3. Act to alleviate the suffering.
Now it's time to replace callousness with compassion and act.
It can take many forms--a reassuring word, a hand on the shoulder, lingering after a meeting to inquire or employing your best listening skills. Your instincts will kick in if you're so inclined.
It's naive to ask that you treat every day as World Kindness Day. So for now, let's just focus on making today a kinder, more compassionate day than yesterday.