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Opinion: Kindness should top workplace goals

Truth Be Told

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Sitting at the top of the list of my all-time favorite people I’ve never met is Fred Rogers. While I didn’t have the chance to be his neighbor, he’s always felt like a friend. What more could a kid want than an afternoon with public television and “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”?

Since last year’s release of the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” movie starring Tom Hanks last month, I’ve found the songs from the classic kids show regularly skipping through my head. They’ve reminded me of the many lessons I learned from Mister Rogers. The most impactful are to not lose your sense of wonder and to be kind.

As I sat in the theater watching “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” I reflected on the importance of kindness. A simple concept that proves harder in practice. We often think of showing kindness to family and friends, but this key trait can be overlooked in the workplace. Of course, with sayings like “nice guys finish last,” it’s no wonder.

It’s high time for us to take a trip to the neighborhood and bring not only civility to the workplace, but true kindness.

Here are four reasons we should be kind:

1. It’s contagious.

A 2018 study by the American Psychological Association found recipients of acts of kindness paid it forward 278% more than the control group. Both the givers and receivers benefitted from generous behavior, as receivers reported being happier and givers became less depressed and more satisfied with their lives and jobs. When cultivating workplace culture, implement kindness at the center. The study makes the case it not only leads to more content employees but also can increase productivity.

2. People are struggling.

In the past year, 60% of workers reported experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. That’s according to workplace think-tank Mind Share Partners’ 2019 Mental Health at Work Report. Experiencing negative mental health is not the exception, it’s the norm. I know I’ve experienced it, and I’m guessing a number of you have, too.

But the study finds that the same 60% of people had not talked to anyone at work about their mental health in the past year and reported feeling least comfortable talking through traditional avenues, like human resources professionals and senior leaders. That points to the value of kindness among peers. We all gravitate toward the people who genuinely show care and concern for us.

The challenges we face with mental health, most commonly depression, anxiety and stress, follow us to the workplace, and that can be the reason we leave. Nearly 34% of survey respondents say they have left jobs for their mental health, and that figure jumps to 75% in people in their early 20s. As employers struggle to keep top employees, providing adequate resources for mental health should be at the top of the list. And employees can jump-start that by creating a culture of care among their peers.

3. You’ll be more effective.

In a study by leadership development consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, likeable leaders are more effective. Among nearly 52,000 leaders, only 27 who rated in the bottom quartile of likability landed in the top quartile of leadership effectiveness. That’s roughly one out of every 2,000. Tough odds. The researchers say you can boost your likeability through positivity, integrity, cooperation and being a mentor, an inspiration and a visionary. Data show overly demanding, unsympathetic bosses just don’t produce the same results as those who genuinely care.

4. It’s a trait of successful people.

A number of presenters at Springfield Business Journal’s fourth annual 90 Ideas in 90 Minutes event spoke about kindness, compassion and caring about those you work with.

“Individuals gravitate toward compassion and kindness, and they retreat from negativity,” says Marshfield attorney Cynthia Black.

And CoxHealth President and CEO Steve Edwards suggests pairing kindness with high expectations.

“The most influential people in my life demanded much of me, which told me they believed in me,” he says. “At the same time, they were always kind to me, which told me they cared.”

I have a note on my computer with some practical tips on demonstrating kindness, such as thanking people, sharing credit, listening attentively, asking questions, acknowledging others and smiling. I often miss the mark on this, but I’m committed to this goal of kindness in 2020.

Will you join me?

Springfield Business Journal Features Editor Christine Temple can be reached at ctemple@sbj.net.

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