The speed and the stresses of work-life can render us oblivious to the kindnesses of others and to the call of being kind to another. Small gestures multiplied many times over bolster us. There’s nothing asked in return. It’s a currency that crosses all cultures and continents. Let’s get more conscious about kindness.
If we were lucky to have a warm family environment, the innocence of youth bathed us in kindness and steeled us for the challenges of life. We lived in the present surrounded by parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers who doted on us. Awash in gifts, birthday cards, lifts to lessons of all sorts, cheers at recitals, we moved from day-to-day feeling taken care of. Even if our childhoods were a bit shaky, someone usually showed up offering a helping hand. We did not know how much these meant to our character development.
Fast forward to the work environment. To what extent are we taking the gifts we’ve received and deliberately passing these on to another?
Not a week goes by without some research that reminds us that work life is in need of a makeover. In November, Towers Perrin HR services reported that just 17 percent of 5,100 Canadians are “fully engaged” in their work, down from 21 per cent two years ago. In the same month, Robert Half Management Resources reported that eighty nine percent of 100 public sector executives surveyed find it more difficult to be a leader than five years ago. They cite increased emphasis on government compliance regulations as the main source of stress. In turn, top leaders rely more on delegating to a strong and competent workforce. If the workforce is less not more engaged, then what does an executive do?
Linda Duxbury, Professor at Carlton University in Ottawa would say—pay more attention to the differences in generational expectations of the workplace and make work-life balance a priority. For example, Baby Busters (1961 to 1974) and The Echo Generation (1974-1990) demand more work-life balance than earlier generations. For that reason, they are not as motivated to put in the long hours required to reach for top positions. Working to live is more important than living to work. They also want respect, to be involved in decision-making and flexibility.
Here’s where kindness kicks in: it is the forerunner of being respectful of another, which in turn implies real listening. If you don’t feel kindness, you aren’t likely to pass it on. Without the reaching out to another, you lose the opportunity to engage meaningfully, soak up her views and learn something of benefit to the organization. So, genuine kindness not only spreads goodwill, it helps us get smarter.
Poets always have a way of bringing the messages together:
So many gods, so many creeds,
So many paths that wind and wind,
While just the art of being kind
Is all the sad world needs
The World’s Need
Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
The Buck in the Snow, III Dirge without Music
Edna St. Vincent Millay
The dictionary refers to kindness as being helpful in nature. Isn’t this what leaders must do to be effective? In the spirit of the times, it won’t hurt to sprinkle a little more around.