Our most profound well-being experiences often are born from the simplest actions.
I rely on a secret mood-booster, for example, when I work at the office during the bleak winter months. On snowy days…
- I sneak out of the office a few minutes early.
- I grab the snowbrush from my car then, before clearing my own vehicle and heading home, I stealthily brush the snow off a coworker’s car.
I never tell the owner (if I know who they are; sometimes I choose a car at random). They get the surprise of heading out after a long day’s work — probably dreading the prospect of brushing off their vehicle in the bitter cold while standing in the fallen snow — and discovering they’re free to just hop in and head home.
Here’s the twist: Not only do I know that my coworker will enjoy this unexpected gift of time, energy, and comfort, but I earn a sense of satisfaction, too. My well-being, this simple act reminds me, is connected to the well-being of others.
Share Your Kindness
It doesn’t matter that winter will soon give way to spring — though blizzards often occur here in March or early April — or that your workplace may provide covered parking or be in a warm climate. Brushing snow is just an example. Give any unexpected gift of kindness; expect nothing in return.
With my snow brushing activity, I’ve learned an act of kindness can bestow different levels of benefit — depending, for one thing, on the recipient. Imagine, for example, the experience of people in different relationship roles as they appreciate your selflessness:
- A coworker/friend
- Member of a team you lead (like someone who reports to you or is on a committee you chair)
- Anyone you don’t know
- A strained relationship due to your disagreements, competitive roles, or personality conflict.
I love doing acts of kindness for friends and family. But the farther removed I am from the recipient, the more consequential the act feels.
Kindness Melts Hardened Hearts
One evening, I spontaneously decided to brush the snow off the Toyota RAV-4 owned by a team member I was quite irritated with (and I knew they’d just about had it with me). It would’ve been hard to find his car under the 5 inches of snow from that day, but fortunately I knew his usual parking spot.
Amazingly, I felt my irritation dissipate like the snow as I brushed it off his car and into that evening’s bitter winds. This team member and I both were relieved to reconcile our differences in the days that followed. I don’t know if he ever guessed I was responsible for brushing his car or even if he noticed it at all. Perhaps, approaching his gleaming RAV-4 in the parking lot that night — as other workers hunched over their own cars waving snow brushes and noisily scraping off ice — a sense of connection awakened in him similar to what I had felt.
A Strategic Priority
Forging human connection is, as it turns out, a main reason my snow-brushing secret is so powerful.
Loads of research links acts of kindness to a wide range of emotional and physical well-being indicators — much of it, for example, summarized in this brief Science of Kindness video.
The Heart and Science of Kindness, on Harvard Medical School’s blog, reminds us “the purest form of kindness may have no audience and offer no credit.” The author goes on to say, “Just as a boss can foster a culture of bullying and fear down the hierarchical line, so can kindness from one help to foster kindness in others.”
Former Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, MD explains in his landmark article Work and the Loneliness Epidemic that workplace social connection is good for business. He advises employers to make it a strategic priority in their organizations and to encourage employees to reach out and help each other.
Giving and receiving help freely is one of the most tangible ways we experience our connections with each other.
To help employers spark a culture of kindness and nurture other dimensions of emotional well-being that go along with it, HES soon will release a revolutionary program. Work of Art empowers participants to personalize their own path toward emotional well-being as they build skills and adopt practices for connection, as well as gratitude, mindfulness, optimism, and more. Visit hesonline.com for additional info.
Whether they’re brushing snow, leaving a thankful note, helping a stranger carry a package, or stepping up to assist a colleague at crunch time, shining a light on the benefits of kindness is a win for everyone. And offering employees new opportunities to share those benefits can make a dramatic difference in their lives and in their work. I know they have for me.
Now, what’s an act of kindness you’ll perform today?
Bob Merberg is an independent consultant with 20+ years in managing employee well-being programs. He specializes in helping employers increase engagement and health outcomes through innovative programs, communication, workplace environment, and organization development strategies. Bob’s well-being program evaluation results have been featured at wellness conferences and in various media outlets.