Kindness is a key element of corporate values and ideals that shape how an organization is perceived by employees, customers, and others. Many socially responsible companies adhere to a set of well defined core values that emphasize trust, honesty, integrity, and respect. Kindness is critical to the full expression and embodiment of these values because they are rooted in the ability of people to interact in positive and constructive ways, with confidence and support.
Kindness can be demonstrated in the workplace through some of the following business practices:
- Core organizational values
- Corporate social responsibility
- Diversity and inclusion
- Employee affinity groups
The Business Case for Kindness
There are many ways in which initiatives in kindness and compassion provide a competitive edge, including:
- Fosters trust within an organization - PwC’s 2016 CEO Survey finds that kindness increases employee commitment to the organization, eliminates communication barriers, minimizes negative competition among staff, and strengthens relationships with other business partners and investors.
- Assists in talent recruitment - A study from researchers at the University of Delaware demonstrates that having a culture of kindness at work may attract employees to a company, allow them to do their work with more compassion, and lead to lower recruiting, hiring, training costs, and higher productivity.
- Heightens employee engagement and commitment - Gallup research has shown that in the past twenty years, employee engagement has become a significant predictor of an organization’s profitability and productivity. Kindness enhances engagement of both employees and customers. Research also indicates that loyalty increases when employees have opportunities to demonstrate kindness in the workplace.
- Fuels learning and innovation - Empathy and kindness is crucial in learning from failure and fostering innovation because it increases what researchers from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor call ‘psychological safety‘ in sharing information. Because innovation rests on learning from failure, kindness is an important aspect of creating new ideas.
- Promotes high-quality service and brand loyalty - Research from Gallup shows that genuine expressions of kindness in service interactions create brand loyalty, drive customer engagement with a service or experience provider, and forge lasting bonds with customers.
- Improves business performance - A Deloitte University study show an 80% improvement in business performance when levels of diversity and inclusion were high.
Company and Employee Findings on Workplace Kindness
Different types of workplaces address kindness in different ways. On behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Booz Allen Hamilton conducted company research and interviews that found that kindness initiatives vary by industry. Companies in industries that rely on their employees being the face of the brand (i.e., consulting services; hospitality/travel; media; consumer products/retail; food & beverage) appear to have more robust programs around the employee value proposition, whereas industries focused on products (i.e., energy; financial services; chemical; utilities; manufacturing) engage in the above programs to some degree, but evidence of the extent of investment in these programs was not readily available.
Additional research regarding employee attitudes toward workplace kindness showed that employees believe that kindness should be recognized and encouraged in the workplace, but employees often do not see this value incorporated into corporate cultures.
The Price of Incivility: Unkind Work Environments Negatively Impact Employee Productivity
In a poll of 800 managers and employees across 17 industries, ninety-eight percent of respondents reported having experienced uncivil behavior at work as reported in the Harvard Business Review. In 2011, 50% said they were treated rudely at least once a week—up from 25% in 1998. Examples of unkind behavior include:
- Verbal abuse from a manager
- Passing blame on mistakes
- Talking down to others; even the smallest incivilities can foster a culture of disrespect
Employee reactions resulting from a negative work environment played out in their-day to-day commitment to their workplace. Table 1 details the resulting employee reaction to uncivil behavior:
When the U.S. Chamber Foundation and the Born This Way Foundation partnered to concentrate on workplace kindness, we worked with Morning Consult to survey currently employed individuals to get a sense of the widespread impact of kindness and civility in the workplace. By using questions from the NAQ-R questionnaire to investigate different aspects of incivility, we had some interesting findings to share.
Changing the Mindset
Companies are beginning to recognize how instrumental they are in shaping their internal environment and changing employee mindsets. Companies can consider any size of kindness initiative. Even small investment and kindness campaigns/events of limited duration have proven to be leveraged to have a positive impact on employee perception of the company.
Organizations should consider many different dimensions of kindness, but key ones enable them to embody kindness effectively. They include:
- Institutionalize core values - ensures employees are held to high standards of trust, respect, and honesty
- Endorse inspirational leaders - inspires trust, gratitude, equality, open communication, and relationships building
- Promote diversity and inclusion and emphasize gender equality - fully develops all talent in their workforces, and to understand new markets and customer segments
- Focus on employee wellbeing - cares about the health of their workforce that includes physical, mental, career, and family
- Engender an environment of empathy - strives for a better society and advocates for opportunities through internal and external programs (e.g., corporate social responsibility (CSR))
- Promote collaboration but recognize individual contribution - creates an environment that benefits from diverse perspectives
- Foster Peer-to-Peer Support - recognizes the importance of peer assistance (e.g., Peer Awards, Personal Time Off Donations)