MOST OF US work with unengaged, stressed people. The odds are, some of them are your employees. A staggering 70% of U.S. employees feel unengaged, and that comes with a loss in productivity that some estimate as high as $605 billion each year.
Disengaged employees are more likely to negatively influence their coworkers, miss workdays and drive clients away, according to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report. Furthermore, most employees do not experience strong leadership in their workplace, according to the report.
There’s a connection between engagement and leadership, which is often not getting made in workplaces. First of all, leadership isn’t about titles. Relational skills are the most important abilities in leadership, according to leadership expert John Maxwell.
The impact of kindness
Considering the low satisfaction employees have regarding leadership in the workplace, relational skills could be a struggle for some managers and business owners. There are solutions to this common challenge, though.
One surprising, cost-effective and joyful tool for change is kindness. Kindness simply means “connecting and caring for others,” said Jaclyn Lindsey, CEO of kindness.org, an organization that studies the impact of measurable acts of kindness.
While kindness is not some sort of magic dust to sprinkle on checked-out employees and bad bosses to instantly transform them, it is a place to begin in changing a negative office environment. Micro-behaviors that make employees feel heard and cared about have a measurable positive impact, according to research from kindness.org. Furthermore, “kind leaders are more respected,” Lindsey said.
In one study of 691 people in 39 countries, the more acts of kindness someone did, the higher they rated their happiness and life satisfaction, Lindsey said. The advantages of kindness are far-reaching as well. It benefits those who give, receive and even observe kind acts.
Kindness sounds great, so why is it in short supply? Basically, it’s a lack of awareness, Lindsey said. Most people don’t walk out the door every morning with bad intent. They’re just busy, sleep deprived or preoccupied.
When teaching kindness, Lindsey said the first place to start is with awareness. Without that, you can’t take the actions you need to make changes. Often, the changes are small.
Lindsey gave the example of one workplace where the boss wasn’t saying good morning to his team. It deflated them. When he began greeting them each morning, workplace satisfaction started increasing.
Easy changes that matter
“Say good morning and good night. Ask people how their weekend was. And listen. Tell people you’re grateful for them. Listening and small compliments go a long way,” Lindsey said.
The other issue is that we care, but we don’t know how to “care well,” whether it’s with our loved ones or our team members, Lindsey said.
Caring well isn’t about money. For example, just taking your family on an expensive vacation isn’t caring well. It’s more about being present and putting down the phone when you’re with people, Lindsey said.
Kindness resides in those unexpected acts that delight and surprise. It can be handwritten notes, bringing someone a cup of coffee, or doing something to honor a client or coworker’s loved one who recently died.
Guiding teams with kindness
Even your best employees can’t read your mind, and there will be times when you can’t just bring someone a cup of coffee to address issues. You need to have an honest conversation with them. You always, however, have a choice about how you say something. To maximize employee performance, offer constructive feedback with empathy instead of criticism and harshness, Lindsey said.
As a leader, set clearly defined roles for employees and then coach people to achieve their maximum potential. “In our work with companies, we’ve noticed that management is often critical-leaning without being clear about roles and what’s expected, and so the talents of the employees remain unacknowledged or underutilized,” Lindsey said. “Simply recognizing your team’s assets, accomplishments and skills count as workplace kindness.
“Success is more than about money,” Lindsey said. “A life led with kindness will make you feel more successful.”