In order to keep office interactions smooth and productive, respect is deeply ingrained in most work environments. Fairness and honesty are often touted as traits of exemplary leaders, because good work has no value if it is done without integrity. But what about kindness?
In the social world, kindness is key – it is like water to flowering relationships, grease to squeaky social situations, and a bandage for aching hearts. It is a way to extend oneself into the world, and make it a better place. At work however, being kind can backfire.
- Being flexible to an individual’s situation out of kindness can result in others manipulating their own situations to take advantage.
- Bringing in baked goods and always having a listening ear might make others perceive you as being too caring to get the harder aspects of a job done.
- Choosing to complete work for a colleague in an effort to help them, may cause them to be suspicious of ulterior motives – what favor will be called upon them at some inconvenient time? Is this going to make them look incompetent to their manager? Was that this person’s goal?!
So, then we are faced with the dilemma of being kind or being socially secure – but it doesn’t have to be so. Kindness can and should have a place in the workplace. After all, most people spend more time at work than they do at home. Being detached – respectful but distant – is a hard way to spend most of the day.
Consider adopting these simple guidelines for office-place kindness.
Is it a reasonable favor for the workplace?
Before extending an offer or assistance, ask yourself: is this something I would do for every single person in this office? If it has to do with lending money, putting yourself in a difficult situation, or dealing with very personal issues, the answer is probably no. In that case, the offer should probably not be made. If the co-worker is more of a friend, feel free to approach them outside of work – but be clear that it has nothing to do with your working relationship.
Be helpful, but don’t be a pushover
Try to say no as often as you say yes. You put yourself at a disadvantage if people know you are an easy way to unload tasks or responsibilities. Not only will they take advantage – but your superiors might wonder why your work is always a lower priority than the work of others.
Set boundaries and stick to them
Be clear about what has been offered out of kindness. Helping someone make copies for a short notice presentation does not entitle them to hand over all of their copy work moving forward. Taking over ordering the food for a meeting does not make you the office caterer. Saying “sure, I’ll help you get this together in time for your 2 o’clock meeting” is healthier than saying “I love making copies, I’ll take care of that for you!”.
Remember that you reap what you sow
Remember that if kindness is being done to you, it behooves you to not take advantage, and to return the favor whenever possible. Kindness will not last long in an environment where the offering hand is eaten alive, and everyone will suffer that loss.
Kindness in the workplace will always look different than it does at home, but it can contribute to a better environment with happier colleagues and better work results. Try making a trophy to reward a co-worker’s awesomeness, and let the good karma flow.