Written by Randall Kratz, FEI Senior Account Manager
Recently I took some time away from work to be with my grandmother in her final moments. As usual, one of the first things she asked me was, “Are you being nice to others?” My “grammy” grew up on a small dairy farm in rural Pennsylvania. Some of her greatest gifts were preparing food out of love for us and being genuinely kind and considerate to others. She knew that people who practice acts of kindness create happiness, and those that experience kindness feel more connected to themselves and others.
My grandmother passed away on her 102nd birthday. When I returned to work, my colleagues provided much needed support as I transitioned back into my role. Many of my work family were not only sorry for my loss, but also asked how I was doing, what my grandmother was like and shared their own personal stories of loss. When I went to our CEO to thank him for his kind words to me while away, he responded with, “You’re a friend. Why wouldn’t I do that?”
So where do these basic human needs fit into a productive work environment? Can leaders and managers do more to foster and encourage kindness and meaningful connection?
Being kind is an innate ability we all possess. It requires us to open up, to show our softer side. It means taking risks in a world where performance, productivity and competition are sometimes more highly valued. Is there room for this type of vulnerability in the workplace? In short, yes!
Brené Brown, author and professor, studies human connection. Her 2010 TED Talk, "The Power of Vulnerability," has been watched more than 26 million times, the highest number of TED Talk views ever. Obviously this concept resonates with many of us.
When you share a personal experience or a story, you make yourself vulnerable. Stories tend to reveal our flaws and mistakes, as well as the challenges that need to be or have been overcome. It shows our humanity despite our differences.
Many leaders are careful about sharing personal information or revealing their struggles at work for fear of judgment or criticism. However, many of us are drawn to the transformative power of vulnerability that sharing personal stories creates. This can help us connect with each other in ways not otherwise possible. It can also improve leadership ratings by increasing the happiness levels of employees throughout the organization.
When we consistently promote values like trust, respect and acceptance, we create a safe place for people to grow and feel fulfilled. People who feel safe are, in turn, more apt to reach out to others in a connected and harmonious way. This human connection improves the social bonds that encourage us to cooperate, rather than compete, with each other. My grandmother understood that such cooperation was critical for farmers living off the land, for example, because those who were kind and worked alongside one another were more likely to survive than those who struggled in conflict and isolation.
As an employee assistance program (EAP) account manager and consultant, I regularly talk with managers about improving the people-management side of the workplace. They often ask for ideas on how to deal with a challenging employee or supervisor. It’s very hard, if not impossible, to change certain difficult behaviors, and in the end the only thing we can change is ourselves and how we respond. If we want to see a more respectful, kinder, more connected and happier workplace, we need to be these things ourselves: we need to lead through example.
And let's face it: happy and motivated staff members are at the heart of every well-functioning and successful business.