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Should You Be Scrooge or Sam Malone?

I’m sure you’ve had an experience when someone was rude to you. I remember one experience in particular where a co-worker told me to shut up and stop talking to our client. This happened in front of the client, in front of our boss and no one said anything. I felt belittled, unworthy and ostracized. I started to pull back and not perform as well and within a month or two, I had left that job

Kindness can either kill your business or create it and there is lots of evidence on how it will assist your career and business. The question for manager is always, should you choose to be more like Scrooge - pinching every penny and forcing your employees to work late and be stressed? Or should you be like Sam Malone - the loveable boss from "Cheers?" Sam was always kind and caring to his employees and created a relaxing work environment.

What is Kindness in the Workplace?

First off, kindness is hard to define. It can look different to different people. While we might not all agree on what actions are kind and which are not, most people typically agree that people’s intentions are kind or uncaring.

In the research world, they call kindness civility. Civility research by Christine Porath at Georgetown showed that employees who were treated uncivilly cut back their efforts by 66%, 80% had lost work time and 12% left their job.

That same research from Georgetown showed that bystanders to incivility in the workplace had 25% worse performance and contributed 45% fewer ideas in meetings.

Just using words that are associated with unkindness can make employees 5 times more likely to misread information or misunderstand instructions. That really makes you hope that the next time you're in the hospital, your nurse hasn’t just been chewed out before she comes to administer your medications.

Kindness is Not Weakness - It's Power

Kindness can affect us in all different places and at any given time; online, in our family, with our friends and even with ourselves. One of the biggest reasons people think that it’s OK to be unkind is because they’re pessimistic about being taken advantage of. However, the Center for Creative Leadership found through their research that the biggest reason why a CEO fails is because they don’t receive support from their team because of an abrasive or overly aggressive leadership style. You really are the sum total of your past experiences.

Now, being kind doesn’t been getting pushed over. Franklin Roosevelt, who was a president during one of the toughest times in American history said, “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the figure of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.”

Benefits of Kindness at Work

Better Work. The number one reason that people continue to be unkind is because they are stressed. The American Psychological Associated reported that by their estimates, nearly $500 billion is lost in the US economy because of stress at work and 550 million workdays are lost because of stress. In fact, they estimate that 60-80% of workplace accidents are caused from stress.

Engagement. Remember my example at the beginning of this article? I'm not alone in that. Employees who feel like their bosses are unkind are more likely to miss work, have an accident at work and have higher amounts of errors in their work. (Research from Queens School of Business.)

Churn. Some businesses might think that they need to put the pressure on employees and if they don't perform, then "they didn't have the right stuff." Not necessarily though, as we mentioned above, employees could be performing worse when managers put the pressure on. This can lead to a large turnover rate at work. Employees who are stressed or treated unkindly at work have a 50% increased chance of voluntarily leaving. We all know that it costs more to replace an employee than train an employee.

So What Should You Do?

Some might say that being kind at work can be in the eye of the beholder. While this might be true, I always tell my employees that:

The truth will come out about your feelings eventually. If you spend more time at work than you do at home, I'm bound to piece together your real feelings about work.

This can be as easy as smiling at people in the halls at work, saying hello, listening to them or writing a handwritten note of praise.

Harvard Business Review has some good suggestions here:

"Creating a positive and healthy culture for your team rests on a few major principles. Our own research (see here and here) on the qualities of a positive workplace culture boils down to six essential characteristics:

"Caring for, being interested in, and maintaining responsibility for colleagues as friends.

"Providing support for one another, including offering kindness and compassion when others are struggling.

  • Avoiding blame and forgive mistakes.

  • Inspiring one another at work.

  • Emphasizing the meaningfulness of the work.

  • Treating one another with respect, gratitude, trust, and integrity.

"As a boss, how can you foster these principles? The research points to four steps to try:

"1. Foster social connections. A large number of empirical studies confirm that positive social connections at work produce highly desirable results. For example, people get sick less often, recover twice as fast from surgery, experience less depression, learn faster and remember longer, tolerate pain and discomfort better, display more mental acuity, and perform better on the job. Conversely, research by Sarah Pressman at the University of California, Irvine, found that the probability of dying early is 20% higher for obese people, 30% higher for excessive drinkers, 50% higher for smokers, but a whopping 70% higher for people with poor social relationships. Toxic, stress-filled workplaces affect social relationships and, consequently, life expectancy.

"2. Show empathy. As a boss, you have a huge impact on how your employees feel. A telling brain-imaging study found that, when employees recalled a boss that had been unkind or un-empathic, they showed increased activation in areas of the brain associated with avoidance and negative emotion while the opposite was true when they recalled an empathic boss. Moreover, Jane Dutton and her colleagues in the CompassionLab at the University of Michigan suggest that leaders who demonstrate compassion toward employees foster individual and collective resilience in challenging times.

"3. Go out of your way to help. Ever had a manager or mentor who took a lot of trouble to help you when he or she did not have to? Chances are you have remained loyal to that person to this day. Jonathan Haidt at New York University’s Stern School of Business shows in his research that when leaders are not just fair but self-sacrificing, their employees are actually moved and inspired to become more loyal and committed themselves. As a consequence, they are more likely to go out of their way to be helpful and friendly to other employees, thus creating a self-reinforcing cycle. Daan Van Knippenberg of Rotterdam School of Management shows that employees of self-sacrificing leaders are more cooperative because they trust their leaders more. They are also more productive and see their leaders as more effective and charismatic.

"4. Encourage people to talk to you – especially about their problems. Not surprisingly, trusting that the leader has your best interests at heart improves employee performance. Employees feel safe rather than fearful and, as research by Amy Edmondson of Harvard demonstrates in her work on psychological safety, a culture of safety i.e. in which leaders are inclusive, humble, and encourage their staff to speak up or ask for help, leads to better learning and performance outcomes. Rather than creating a culture of fear of negative consequences, feeling safe in the workplace helps encourage the spirit of experimentation so critical for innovation. Kamal Birdi of Sheffield University has shown that empowerment, when coupled with good training and teamwork, leads to superior performance outcomes whereas a range of efficient manufacturing and operations practices do not."

What do you think? Comment below and let me know how you've seen kindness effect a business.

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