In personal relationships, kindness is one of the attributes we actively seek; it strengthens bonds and signals authenticity. Pursuing friendships for their kindness feels perfectly natural. We wouldn’t want to share experiences with people who aren’t kind—doing so would hurt us, and what’s more, it would be a waste of valuable time.
In environments such as the workplace, however, “kindness” may carry a stigma that suggests permissiveness, inefficiency, or weakness. Business leaders might assume a strictly disciplined culture leads to productivity and leaves no room for sensitivity toward different approaches or styles of work. In emphasizing efficiency above all else, they might assume time taken to understand other ideas—or connect personally with employees—is time wasted. They might also assume their colleagues and supervisors will interpret openness toward different points of view as a lack of self-confidence, and they can’t exhibit weakness.
In reality, though, these common assumptions represent unwarranted fears that, ironically enough, actually lessen productivity, efficiency, and clarity. Genuine kindness is a position of strength, involving perceptiveness, self-awareness, humility, fortitude, tenacity, hustle, directness, and focus. It is not a soft attitude but rather a long-game strategy for organizational success.
For example, as a business leader, you need to retain talent. One of the greatest costs to any organization is turnover. A 2012 Center for American Progress study found “the typical (median) cost of turnover was 21 percent of an employee’s annual salary.” If your employees don’t feel appreciated, respected, or encouraged, they’ll leave before they’ve even made it worth your while to train them. In essence, you’ll have paid a 21 percent fee for your workplace culture and be forced to hire someone else at the same cost before the year is up. (And they’ll very likely leave as well, if conditions don’t improve.)
If your organization experiences high turnover, you’re not alone—job dissatisfaction is nearly epidemic. According to a 2017 Gallup poll, 63 percent of workers believe they can find another job as good as the one they have, and 51 percent are actively looking for other work. These high numbers indicate more than simply a strong economy with a shrinking hiring pool or some misunderstood characteristic of a job-hopping millennial workforce. They underscore the need for better workplace environments that build in retention by recognizing and respecting workers’ full value as human beings. No one enjoys the tumult of switching jobs, and beyond the usual changes in life circumstances, people leave only if they’re unhappy where they currently work.
Appreciating, respecting, and encouraging staff all fall under the rubric of genuine kindness. If employees feel seen and like they have something unique to contribute toward an organization’s mission—and if their team leaders welcome this contribution with care and consideration—they’ll not only add value to the business but also stick around. Once you find the right people, it’s essential to do more than just plug them into existing operations and move on. There needs to be an ongoing relationship with them as individuals that acknowledges their strengths, goals, and concerns. Such attention allows you to discover who they are, what they can offer the organization beyond their job descriptions, and how you can help structure their role for the long term.
During the winter holidays, we reflect on the ways in which we can offer thanks to the family and friends in our lives. It would serve us well to expand this consideration to the workplace and keep the habit throughout the year. Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s also a means by which all organizations can persist and flourish.