Following a workshop last winter, while trudging through snow to get to my car in a company parking lot, I found my vehicle completely cleared of snow and my windshield scraped.
My client, the human resources director, smiled and said such random acts of kindness (RAK) had become a part of their culture and cleaning your car and someone else's was a common occurrence in their large parking lot.
"People often don't know whose car they're cleaning," she told me.
'People often don't know whose car they're cleaning.' - HR director
Random acts of kindness and so called "paying it forward" is coming of age in the workplace. There are a host of heartwarming stories on social media of strangers and colleagues "paying it forward" by doing something, typically small but thoughtful, to surprise, inspire and delight others. Some employers have been paying attention and are instituting initiatives to make random acts of kindness part of a more collaborative and kinder workplace culture.
Harvard's Kotter and Haskett, over an 11-year period, demonstrated that when workplaces are positive and affirming, revenues increased six-fold. Wharton's Adam Grant's bestseller Give and Take clearly established the case that the greatest [and often least expensive] source of employee motivation comes from being of service to others. No wonder LinkedIn instituted a plan worldwide where groups of four employees are given $100 and told to commit random acts of kindness in the community. The inspiring stories the teams brought back to the workplace were a motivational bonanza with lasting impact.
New Brunswick's Imperial Manufacturing Group marked the annual RAK day in February this year by having small cards with logos printed and through a number of RAK champions in their workplaces in Canada and the United States had the cards left along with a small act of kindness. The cards played a game of tag, telling people they were it and urging them to pass it on along with an act of kindness.
"Employees loved it and it spread not only within the company but the cards accompanied by acts of kindness made their way into the various communities where we operate," said HR manager Teena Robichaud. They plan to make it an annual event.
'Employees loved it and it spread not only within the company but the cards accompanied by acts of kindness made their way into the various communities where we operate.' - Teena Robichaud, HR manager at Imperial Manufacturing group
Consider the Booster Juice franchisee who tasks people for their entire shift to go out and commit RAKs in proximity to their location, be they a neighbouring business or a passerby. He claims to have done this with all 50 of his staff over time to widespread acclaim. Employers are increasingly brokering opportunities for employees to feel good about giving with no ulterior motive.
I like the covert nature of some acts of workplace kindness when a colleague secretly fills her coworkers candy dish after hours and never lets on, or the supervisor who stealthily leaves green pens on the desk of a staffer who loves all kinds of green-inked writing instruments. The beauty of those acts is their randomness and to some extent their secrecy. They were done to delight with no expectation of reward or acknowledgment or even to witness the result. This is not to say all such acts need to be covert and anonymous.
Late night TV host Jimmy Fallon famously raided a nearby florist when he noticed no one on his staff had received flowers for Valentines Day, so he gave flowers to every staff member. The act was random but not anonymous.
Many of the hundreds of online workplace suggestions for RAKs fall into what I consider common courtesy, basic civility or good citizenship as an employee. In my view, although appreciated and encouraged [holding a door open, saying good morning, smiling deliberately at someone, etc.], I believe the real power comes when such acts are out of the norm, deliberate and even concerted with small RAK budgets for employees and customers.
You don't need a RAK program from your wellness committee [an increasingly popular trend] or need to wait until RAK week in February or get caught up in a formal or informal interdepartmental RAK challenge. You don't need permission or a budget as part of a collective action in your workplace to randomly, anonymously [or not] commit an act of kindness to a co-worker, your boss or a client. You simply need to act. You just might be starting something with many wonderful unintended consequences to follow. Besides, the weather will soon enable you to scrape someone else's car and turn that drudgery into an act of kindness.