We spend a disproportionate amount of our waking hours at a job interacting with customers and colleagues. While it is easy to bemoan the lack of civility (a form of kindness known as politeness) in our politicians and in our media, the fact is that most of us can have our biggest impact on kindness where we live and work. This is especially true when we interact with the public as part of our job. Healthcare consumers often find the medical system confusing and frustrating, and may vent at their doctor, nurse, or insurance company. Oftentimes the complaint is that the patient does not believe their concern is being adequately addressed. A little kindness, by taking that extra moment to help (rather than dismissing them or saying ‘that’s not my job’) can go miles toward resolving a complaint. I work for a large medical center and often my patients just want someone – anyone – to listen to their complaint and help them solve it. Much of the time, just showing that I’m trying to help will make an upset patient so much happier. The problem is often not something I’m responsible for so it would be easy to dismiss them, but patients are human beings and my job is to help human beings — so I do. I often receive great reviews at work because I try to assist patients or to point them to the right person who can help – this only takes an extra moment or two. In this case the kind thing to do is also the right thing to do. If you’re in an industry that interacts with upset people often, then good! This is your opportunity to make a big difference on a regular basis by being kind and by making someone’s day. You can be a major blessing for someone!

Your customer could even be a fellow coworker. Working alongside someone day after day, one often becomes attuned to how that person is doing. When you notice a colleague having a rough day, this may be an opportunity to show kindness and grace towards them. If one of your colleagues continues to have bad days for more than a week or so, you definitely may want to speak to them and voice your concerns. The sad reality is that depression is a widespread problem and that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. When you notice a colleague who is not acting like their usual self for more than a few days – talk to them and let them know that you care and are concerned for them. The key to beating serious emotional problems is early intervention by a caring friend or colleague. If they continue to not get better, than professional help may be indicated. Your kindness and concern can literally save a life. And of course, if you have any concerns that your friend or colleague may be having thoughts of killing themselves, you should ask them point-blank “Are you having thoughts of killing yourself?” This can be an uncomfortable question to ask, but if you don’t ask then how else would you know? If they are suicidal what would you do? The best course of action is to treat active suicidal thoughts the same way you treat chest pains – by calling 911 or by taking the person directly to the closest ER. Both situations can be deadly and both require immediate evaluation by a medical professional. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline anytime day or night any time of the year to consult with a mental health professional right then. The number is 1-800-273-8255. Everyone should put this number in his or her cell phone – the last thing you want is a friend or colleague in an emotional crisis and not be able to remember this number. When you call, you will get a machine for about 6 or 7 seconds that says “If you are a Veteran or a member of the military, press 1”, and this is just so the call is routed to the correct call center. You can also call to consult about how to help a friend or colleague, and can call anytime 24 hours a day.

Look for every opportunity to be kind to your coworkers and clients. Avoiding office gossip and not repeating gossip is one way of being kind. Another is to help a coworker who is overwhelmed with an unusually heavy workload or a temporary crisis. Everyone appreciates kindness, and kind acts at work can help build up goodwill and improve the office environment. Also, when you find a coworker being particularly difficult to get along with, showing grace and kindness can change your relationship with him or her for the better. This does not mean you should be a doormat, as an appropriate level of assertiveness is a healthy thing – just be assertive and kind. You can also surprise coworkers with planned, anonymous acts of kindness. Leave treats for them on their desk or occasionally bring treats for the employee break room, and find other ways to pleasantly surprise coworkers. Even little acts of kindness can make a colleague or client’s day. I know I was certainly surprised by a clever act of kindness by my eye doctor once. When I showed up for Lasik surgery the staff had brought in red velvet cupcakes for me. Did this put me more at ease at a particularly anxious time? You bet. It was a small but positive act of kindness.

Kindness at work may even pay off in better employee productivity and less turnover. A 2008 study by the American Management Association found that employees who work for kind bosses were less likely to quit their job, were more productive employees, and felt more comfortable speaking candidly about problems at work. Conversely, employees who worked for a ‘bully’ were less productive and more likely to quit. For employers, it seems that being kind actually pays off!

Ron Hill