The Science Behind Kindness: Why Kindness Matters in the Workplace

Happy new year to all! New beginnings and new opportunities abound and I believe it is the perfect time to examine whatever matters to you. For most of my adult years, what has taken up my time, energy and effort is trying to help to make the workplace just a bit more enjoyable and fulfilling. As the former 8th grade Chair of the Welcoming Committee at Kilmer Junior High School in Vienna, Virginia, I have tried to encourage, at a bare minimum, a professional, courteous and collaborative environment whether it be at a PTA meeting, law school student law office or work space. The work environment matters to me. I believe people should be able to move through life without unnecessary burdens such as bullying, inequity, shame and ridicule. I believe caring and kind people can succeed. With that in mind, I decided to look into the research of respected organizational psychologist Adam Grant. Adam is well-known for his popular podcast, WorkLife with Adam Grant, as well as his books including Give and Take and  Think Again

Here’s the good news: In his interview for the Next Big Idea Club digital magazine (If You Want Your Business to Succeed, Cultivate Kindness, Emma Seppala, 05/09/2016), Adam offers, “kindness and compassion give us a far better advantage than self-absorption. Nice guys do finish first . . . as long as they learn how not to let others take advantage of them.” Kind and compassionate individuals provide a haven to expand creatively without fear of humiliation and offer space for exploring while making mistakes. As I have found in my work as an ombuds for the past 22 years, employees and students are much more willing to share concerns with a warm and inviting supervisor or professor versus impatient and insensitive individuals. It seems so intuitive and yet ombuds regularly meet with employees and students who are suffering due to an abrasive supervisor or instructor. Adam continues his science-based rationale by stating that, “observing kind behavior significantly reduces our brain’s stress reactivity. As brain imaging studies show, when social relationships feel safe, the brain’s stress response is attenuated. In turn, trust increases a spirit of innovation.” 

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt offers additional insight. He suggests that watching others engage in a compassionate manner offers inspiration which he has termed “state of being elevation”. When leaders are observed behaving kindly, employees are more likely to follow in their footsteps and behave more collegial towards their teammates. And here’s where it gets really exciting! Studies show, the compassionate behavior of the leader in turn creates a more productive and collaborative workplace for the entire team. Bottom line, kindness and compassion are good business tools even if all that matters to the leader is productivity. 

With that in mind, and because I tend to be overly optimistic at the beginning of the year, I encourage each of you to explore the following resources because remember, according to Adam, nice people do succeed!

By: Melissa Connell, Ombuds Director, University of Colorado Denver|Anschutz Medical Campus


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