I was surprised to see my colleague’s name pop up on my phone. I wasn’t expecting her call; I knew she was facing an agonizing day of meetings so consuming that she needed to reschedule our standing check-in conversation to accommodate her schedule. “One of my co-workers offered to cover my last two meetings for me so I could take a break!” she told me; her joy was palpable. “Isn’t that the kindest thing?”
Random acts of kindness have always been among my favorite to experience—and to create. At the end of my freshman year of high school, my English teacher and student council advisor gave me a paperback book entitled Random Acts of Kindness to thank me for a year of leading fundraisers and staying after school to help her sort papers and prepare for meetings. Days after reading the book for the first time, as I pushed our grocery cart from my mom’s car to the corral in the parking lot, I added an abandoned cart in a parking spot to my route before dropping them both off in their proper place. A store employee noticed and made a point of thanking me. “Not a lot of folks would do that,” he told me. “It really helps a lot.” I read the book cover to cover more times than I could count, and every time I did something kind for someone else, I was overwhelmed by the delight I also felt. As it turns out, there is a reason why: kindness makes us feel happier, boosts our resilience, and can even help us maintain good health.
Think about the last time someone did something kind for you. There’s a good chance that experience left you feeling appreciated, important, joyful, or seen. Now, think about the last time you did something kind for someone else. How did that person react? How did you feel when you saw their reaction? There’s a good chance their happiness was reflected in your response. As it turns out, many of us underestimate just how important these acts can be. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine found that many of us hold back kindness because we don’t know just how meaningful even the smallest acts can be.
Each year on November 13 we celebrate World Kindness Day, which started in 1995 to make kindness a norm in our daily lives. Kindness often feels easier outside of work than at it. Extending a kindness to a partner, child, or friend might feel like second nature; why, then, does it feel so much harder to extend the same kindness at work? For many of us, it comes down to workplace culture. We’re led to believe if we carry our own weight, stay in our lane, and keep our heads down we’ll be more likely to get ahead or work our way up the ladder. As it turns out, the secret to success is embedded within how we treat and support each other. It’s through kindness—through building connection, offering and accepting help, and making space for trust and vulnerability—that we get ahead and help others get ahead, too.
In the spirit of World Kindness Day, here are five ways you can add more kindness to your colleagues’ day.
Assume positive intent
Arguments and mistakes happen at work, and it’s far easier to deem a colleague wrong or responsible than it is to turn those words inward. That impact can damage relationships—especially when no one intended for negative consequences to happen. Before judging someone’s actions, give team members the benefit of the doubt and assume positive intent. Ask yourself if your colleague meant to cause harm or get the answer wrong and notice how your reaction changes; if you think someone meant to do the wrong thing, your reaction may be rooted in annoyance or frustration. If you change that narrative and consider that someone may have been trying their best or expected a different outcome, you may experience compassion and empathy instead.
An important part of assuming positive intent is communication. Talk with your team members to understand the bigger picture; they may share details or insights that can shed light on their words or actions. Listen to their concerns, feedback, and rationale; in addition to challenging your own assumptions, you’ll build stronger and more trusting connections to people on your team.
Offer to help
Most of us have experienced overwhelm at work; many of us can relate to-do lists that spiral out of control and meetings that fill up every spare moment on our calendars. As Fred Rogers once observed, “All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we’re giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That’s one of the things that connects us as neighbors—in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver.” If you notice a colleague is struggling under the weight of their responsibilities, offer to help where you can. Help looks different for everyone; in some cases, it can involve taking a task or two off someone’s plate, or it might be offering a help someone prioritize their deliverables or teach them a time-maximizing technique.
Offering help can be an important act of kindness even if your colleague doesn’t take you up on the offer. Knowing that someone sees them and cares enough to connect can provide a needed boost of confidence, and it can also make space for trust and vulnerability when help is needed in the future. While you should only offer the kind of help you are ready and willing to give, there’s a good chance the offer alone will brighten someone’s day.
Say thank you
For most of us, thank you is part of our vernacular—but are you saying it intentionally? More than a platitude at the end of an email, saying thank you can be a simple yet meaningful way of recognizing someone’s efforts and what they offer to your team. Consider when and how you thank your colleagues for the time and energy they bring to their roles and try using different words to emphasize your gratitude for who they are. Phrases like I appreciate you and I couldn’t have done it without you can feel more personal; similarly, expanding a thank you to describe why you are grateful can really make someone’s day.
Recognize someone’s work
Recognizing a colleague can be more than offering an individual thank you; shining a spotlight on their contributions can also be a great act of kindness. Consider sending a note to a team member’s supervisor, giving them a shout out during a meeting, or tagging them on an internal social platform to let others know about the great work they do. In some cases, it may be worth letting a colleague know you would like to recognize them before offering a bigger, more visible display of gratitude; some people prefer to stay out of the spotlight and finding out how a person would appreciate receiving recognition can be an act of kindness in itself.
Make time for mindfulness
More than a way to center yourself during a busy or stressful day, mindfulness creates space for kindness. Build time into your day to reflect on how others contribute to what you love about your role. From small things, like a team member who always smiles during conversations, to big things, like a co-worker staying late to finish typing meeting minutes so you can end your day a bit earlier, our teams add so much to our workplace culture and experience. Reflection points help us to keep the true benefits of kindness in focus. During those mindful moments, jot down the kindness you experience, how they make you feel, and what actions you can take to add more kindness into someone’s day. Kind acts release serotonin and oxytocin in our brains, but those infusions of joy typically last for just a few minutes. The more mindful we are about kindness, the more often we can choose kindness—and because kindness is contagious, we can inspire real change within everyone we encounter.
How will you celebrate World Kindness Day?
World Kindness Day graces our calendars just once a year, but its effects will stay with us far longer—and they can transform how we work and connect with one another. Think about how a few intentional acts of kindness you can insert into the upcoming work week. How can you make someone’s day brighter? How can you thank someone for what they bring to you and your team? As Mister Rogers once reflected, “Imagine what our neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.”
How will you be kind today?