Kindness isn’t a word we often hear when we talk about business success. Innovation, drive, talent, ambition, creativity, agility – all these are frequently held up key as ingredients in a healthy business culture. Kindness is more likely to be seen as an optional extra – something that would be nice to have, but isn’t essential to the way a company operates.
But my experiences have taught me that kindness – that special quality of being friendly, generous and considerate – has an extraordinary power. If you follow a simple act of kindness you can see it ripple out from individuals to colleagues, companies, and the societies we operate in.
“The thing that lies at the foundation of positive change, the way I see it, is service to a fellow human being.” – Lee Iacocca, former President & CEO, Chrysler
To start with, being kind makes us feel better. Performing an act of kindness triggers the release of chemicals in the brain such as serotonin and dopamine. These give us what is called the “helper’s high”, making us not only happier but calmer. It can reduce stress, boost our immune system, and reduce negative emotions like anger and anxiety.
The person you are kind to gets a similar chemical and emotional boost – which is why it’s sometimes said that kindness is the only thing that doubles when you share it.
“Motivation comes from working on things we care about. It also comes from working with people we care about.” – Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook
We get a boost of a different kind when we collaborate in an act of kindness with others. That releases oxytocin, the hormone that is responsible for social bonding. This can be of enormous value in bringing your team together – particularly if the other members of the team aren’t people you would instinctively socialize with.
That’s why growing numbers of companies recognize that encouraging employees to volunteer together can help them build relationships away from work, and develop a shared sense of purpose. When I’m looking for opportunities for this in my own work, I’m also guided by research that shows that people get a greater sense of satisfaction from volunteering when they are given a concrete goal, rather than a less defined, more abstract task.
Kindness ripples out beyond the level of a team, to benefit the company as a whole. Harvard Business School Professor Emeritus James L. Heskett is adamant when he says “organization culture is not a soft concept. Its impact on profit can be measured and quantified.”
In his book “The Culture Cycle: How to Shape the Unseen Force that Transforms Performance”, he points out that a kinder culture can reduce staff turnover, which in turn cuts recruitment and training costs, as well as keeping wages lower. It can also have a positive effect on productivity. It’s little wonder that the mantra of corporate culture as a competitive advantage has become so popular.
“Transparency, honesty, kindness, good stewardship, even humor, work in businesses at all times.” – John Gerzema, CEO, Harris Insights & Analytics
One of the most pleasing things about acts of kindness, especially for those of us trained to demand the biggest bang for your buck, is that is it’s contagious.
Research by the psychologist Jamil Zaki demonstrates the viral effect of kindness – participants in his study were more likely to act with kindness and generosity when they were set a positive role model to follow. The Harvard Business Review uses the experience of Mercedes-Benz USA as a case study of putting this into practice. The company used the “kindness contagion” effect to transform the culture of its 23,000 employees at dealerships across the country, vastly improving its customer service.
Particularly important is the role kindness plays in promoting better mental health.
It’s too easy to let the demands and pressures of work get in the way of treating each other as human beings, each with our own struggles and problems. A negative working environment can be a significant factor contributing to mental health issues.
The cost of poor mental health to business is huge. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates depression and anxiety cost $1 trillion a year in lost productivity. But the human cost is even greater.
This is where a kind culture can make all the difference. Research by Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation shows that young people who describe their environments as kind are more likely to be mentally healthy – whether that is a school, a college or a workplace.
By setting the right example at work, we are in a position to spread these benefits not just to our employees and customers, but to the wider community.
Proof, if any were needed, that a little kindness can go a long way.
About the author(s)
Business & Technology Services
TCS’ Business and Technology Services organization combines the power of business excellence with digital innovations to help enterprises and leaders be purpose-driven and performance-oriented, making the shift from shareholder value to stakeholder value. By harnessing the abundance of data, talent, connectivity and capital, B&TS helps leading companies around the world build ecosystems that fuel growth and innovation, foster collaboration and engagement across ecosystems, improve health, safety, and well-being, enabling empowerment and inclusivity, and driving sustainability and positive environmental impact.