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Do You Cultivate Being Kind at Work?


Today is Martin Luther King Day here in the U.S. and it has me thinking about what role being of service to others plays in people's thinking about their professional development and career. 

In this case, I'm thinking less about whether or not your job is about service--for example, you work for a nonprofit--and more about the extent to which you incorporate workplace altruism into your daily life. How is doing for others freely and without expectation of something in return a career practice to which you aspire? 

University of Pennsylvania Professor Adam Grant is perhaps the most advanced practitioner of the art of workplace altruism and this New York Times article does a nice job of explaining how this works for him:

Helpfulness is Grant’s credo. He is the colleague who is always nominating another for an award or taking the time to offer a thoughtful critique or writing a lengthy letter of recommendation for a student — something he does approximately 100 times a year. His largess extends to people he doesn’t even know. A student at Warwick Business School in England recently wrote to express his admiration and to ask Grant how he manages to publish so often, and in such top-tier journals. Grant did not think, upon reading that e-mail, I cannot possibly answer in full every such query and still publish so often, and in such top-tier journals. Instead, Grant, who often returns home after a day of teaching to an in-box of 200 e-mails, responded, “I’m happy to set up a phone call if you want to discuss!” He attached handouts and slides from the presentation on productivity he gave to the Academy of Management annual conference a few years earlier.


Grant's research and his own experiences have shown that the greatest untapped source of motivation is serving others--that we are more creative and productive when we focus on helping others rather than thinking about helping ourselves. 

Louise Altman at The Intentional Workplace blog brings additional perspective, pointing out that acts of kindness at work relieve stress and activate the pleasure centers in our brain. Doing something kind for a co-worker can also benefit our own emotional health and well-being. 

So today, take a moment to consider how you might be more intentional in incorporating kindness into your life. How can you become more altruistic at work and how can regular kindness help you grow professionally and personally? 

Here are a few ways you could get started:

  • Compliment a colleague.
  • Listen with intention when a colleague shares a story or problem. 
  • Offer to help on a project.
  • Buy a cup of coffee or pick up the lunch tab for a colleague.
  • Share an interesting article or resource that you know would be helpful to a co-worker.
  • Talk to someone about their personal or professional dreams and then find a way to help

There are tons of ways to start being more altruistic--feel free to share in comments what you're doing to brighten someone's day and how you plan to continue this is as part of your career practice. 


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