July 25, 2021
Company Culture 23 January 2019
How Kindness Increases Employee Performance: Using the Golden Rule at Work
Joan Elmore
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It was one of those days.  I’d been up all night with my baby, I had a pounding headache, I’d spilled half an energy drink down my pant leg in the car, and it was twelve-thirty on a Monday.  I was not in the mood for this, I did not have it in me to smile, and bustle around, and make small talk, and solve other people’s problems.  I could not make myself care about what happened here, when I desperately needed to face-plant onto a featherbed in a silent room and shut down.  I walked in the door at my job wishing I could hang a sign around my neck:  "I CAN’T TODAY".   

I made my way to the breakroom, opened my locker, and inside was a package of my favorite candy, with a note from one of my coworkers:  “Have a great day Joanie!”You know how people talk about one simple little thing completely turning their mood around?  Well, I know for myself that it’s not an exaggeration because right then I felt completely different than I had walking in!  It was like my switch flipped, and right then I felt light, and cheerful, and supported, and cared for.  For the rest of my shift, I had the energy to focus on my clients’ needs, and to be friendly with my coworkers, and I totally forgot that I’d wanted to call in for a mental health day.   

We all know the value of the Golden Rule.  Nobody has to convince any of us that kindness can change the world.  I’ve just been thinking a lot lately about how it might change our performance at work.  

Would kindness at work make us better at our jobs?  I think so, but I wanted to get more thoughts on it.  I wanted to know how giving, receiving, or witnessing kindness at work impacted other people, so I asked around and here’s what I was told:



“Every time I experience it… it is always motivating.  I feel more rejuvenated to handle the parts of work that are challenging,” - Nathalie, QA Officer

This is not an answer I was expecting, but now I want to write it on a Post-It note and stick it to my bathroom mirror.  Because when Nathalie told me that, I remembered a day in one of my past jobs, when I was preparing to tackle a tedious project and was mentally wrestling over it while I emptied the trash can in my office.  Before I could make it to the back door, my coworker got up from his desk, took the bag from me, and walked it outside to the dumpster.  

It was such a simple thing, but it made me feel like people had my back.  And it made me feel awake if that makes sense.  I’d been shuffling along in kind of a trance, just focused on my own brain’s grumbling, and then in a moment, I was snapped out of it.  It was so reassuring and rejuvenating, like Nathalie described.  I went back to my desk and felt energized while I worked on that thing I normally dread.It makes me think now about times when I tried to motivate myself into action by hanging quotes around, or putting X’s on a calendar, or promising myself a reward later.  All of those can be effective, but until now I hadn’t considered kindness as a motivator, and I probably should have.

Have you ever given up your place in line, or helped someone pick up the stuff they dropped, or stopped a runaway cart from hitting someone’s car in the parking lot – and felt a rush afterward?  And have you ever been on the receiving end of things like that, and felt the same way?  

Employee motivation is an ever-present challenge for most companies, and this could be one of the solutions.  Just think about what work would be like if each person in your place was purposeful about finding ways to show kindness each day – and was consequently getting hit with that amazing, invigorating feeling regularly.  

Maybe cases of the after-lunch slump would subside, and maybe the breakroom coffee pot would stay full longer, but what I feel confident about now is that people would get more priority work done, and have more energy doing it.    

TRY THIS:  Look for examples of kindness in your employees, and express your appreciation.  When someone brings treats, or offers to pick up a shift so his/her coworker can take a day off, or takes time to help someone navigate a new program – notice those things, and tell the employee how grateful you are.   


People want to do work that matters; work that gives back to the world.  And sometimes - at least from the perspective of the person doing it - the job description doesn’t seem to qualify, and the result is a disappointed and unengaged employee.  Want to know the cure?  It’s not an overhaul, where you turn the company into a nonprofit and hand out new responsibilities.

This is a story sent to me from Kathy, a Payroll Specialist:

“I have… a very good job, but sometimes I get worn down with too many internal rules, and not enough meaning…  I was talking with a friend about my frustration, and he reminded me to focus on doing my work with love.  

 “…One day [soon after] I had a phone call from [a] very frustrated [client].  I let her express her frustrations, and I genuinely apologized that she was experiencing such difficulties.  That triggered her sharing with me that she would [soon be starting] cancer treatments.  She was very worried… and didn’t know how she was going to face everything.

“… I had just finished going through chemotherapy, [so] after resolving the tax problem she called about, I said a few things… to cheer her on.  She was so grateful.  After I hung up, I [decided] to write her a letter.  In it I shared some advice for things that really helped me when I was going through those treatments.

“…Two or three weeks later I got a response from her.  …She wanted me to know how important [my letter] was to her, and how much she needed it.  She reads the letter every day and is so grateful for the comfort it brings her.

“That was meaningful!  …[And now I say] to myself, ‘I am happy to help!’ …That has made a direct change in how others respond to me, and makes it so much more enjoyable to go to work every day.”

The people in your company don’t have to be curing cancer, or fighting forest fires, or rescuing puppies from the streets to do meaningful work that matters to other people.  No matter what the work actually is, they can give it meaning with the way they do it.  When your employees know that, it will increase their engagement and your company retention rates which could mean everything for you. 

TRY THIS:  Have your employees look for the kindness in each other, and report those things to you or others in management positions.  Have them pay attention to any simple act of helpfulness, or any other good deed (refilling the copy paper, inviting a new hire to lunch, being a listening ear on someone’s bad day, holding the elevator door, helping someone carry a load of files), and report it so you or their manager can give it recognition too.  


“Kindness equals comfort for many.  When people are comfortable with you, they are more likely to share ideas without feeling the fear of rejection or ridicule.”  - John, HR Generalist 

You want a place full of people who feel comfortable with you, and with each other.  Sharing ideas helps employees to feel personally invested in the company they work for – you want that happening in yours.  But this feeling of comfort and confidence affects everything else, too.  Brooke, an Interior Decorator, put it perfectly: 

“If it’s a kind environment, then people feel safe to try hard.  I know that if I had to worry about backlash to everything I did, I would be doing the bare-minimum.”

At one of my jobs, part of the expectation for my position was that I sold a product or an extra service with each appointment.  But whenever I failed in my attempt, my boss or co-workers would tease me after the client left. Looking back, I can understand that they were all friends, and that was the way they talked to each other.  But I was brand-new in the industry, brand-new in that job, very shy, and the thought of making a sales pitch made my teeth chatter.  The criticism embarrassed me so much, I stopped trying to sell anything.

Fast-forward a few years and I was working at a different company in that same industry, but at this company, my boss and my coworkers were kind and supportive to me.  I could have conversations with clients in front of anyone I worked with, and I knew no one would make fun of me if I didn’t say everything perfectly. No one would criticize me or get upset if I attempted a sale and got a “no”, so I regularly offered products or extra services with my appointments. As time went on I got better at it, and one day my boss called me into her office to give me a gift card and congratulate me for making the most sales that month.    

People who trust each other give more.  People who feel confident going into something tend to do better at it.  If you want confident, trusting people in your company, you want it to be a place full of kindness.   

TRY THIS: Recognize and respond kindly to each person’s efforts and ideas – even when those aren’t perfect.  It doesn’t mean you have to use each idea, or accept incomplete or lower-quality work, but take time to express appreciation for every sincere attempt as people learn and get better.  Do this in private conversations, and in front of other employees, so everyone can learn how to support and encourage each other - and make sure to thank the employees who follow your lead.  


“I always appreciated when someone at a much higher position… spoke to me, helped me, and even did part of my job for me without being asked.  It made me into the type of leader [who] was never afraid of ‘getting my hands dirty’, to show those I am asking to do the work, that I can and will do it also.  

The kindness they showed made a huge impact on me and how I thought a manager/leader should be, and I strived to do that for others in return!” – Sarah, District Training Manager

Kindness makes us better – whether we’re giving it, receiving it, or witnessing it.  An example of kindness inspires us and teaches us how to give more, help others, and improve ourselves.  

You know how if you see someone in front of you give some money to a homeless person, you’re way more likely to roll your window down and do the same?  And if you watch someone respond patiently during a stressful situation, it’s a lot easier to control your own frustration?  We’re more inspired to make good choices when we’re given positive examples, and one act of kindness can set off a chain reaction of good.   

Semira is a Crisis Counselor, and she told me about the impact of kindness in her industry: 

“[Kindness] is truly important and in high-demand for those in the medical field and/or [who do] social work.  Emotions run very high, [and] others have the ability to set and change the tone of the environment.  If the vibe is off, be kind.”

One day, all of my coworkers seemed to be in the same bad mood.  People were grumbling in the breakroom or sighing in the halls, and the whole place seemed gloomy.  Then one of my coworkers arrived at the start of her shift, with a big smile and a dessert she’d made, and she took some time to chat with us while we loaded up our plates.  

The mood completely changed.  People were smiling; laughing; joking with each other.  I got back to work feeling cheerful, and when one of my coworkers was hurrying to start an appointment on time, I noticed and found a way to help.  

Want to bring out the best in everyone and influence a positive environment?  Use kindness. 

TRY THIS:  Find ways to do simple acts of kindness for your employees.  Bring your assistant a coffee.  Stop by work areas and ask people how they’re doing, and if there’s anything they need.  Take out the trash, sweep the floor, or replace the paper towels in the bathroom.  Offer to help with day-end procedures so everyone can go home earlier.  Bring kindness in yourself, set an example, and see what happens.


“The key to success is happiness.” - Justin Cohen

That’s a quote from a video I watched recently, called, “How Happiness Boosts Workplace Performance”.  Among the studies Justin cited was one by Harvard University, which showed that every area of business improved as the happiness levels of the employees increased.

“They say if you want a job done well, ask a busy person.  Actually – you should ask a happy person,” he stated.  

Cohen then talked about ways to increase happiness levels, doing acts of kindness made his list, and there are plenty of other studies out there to back that up.  When you think about it, it makes so much sense!  Try not to get a boost of happiness when you help an elderly lady find her car in the parking lot, or when you see someone rescue an upside-down turtle from the road, or when you get handed the dollar bill you dropped.  Is it even possible?  

And think about the way you work when you’re feeling happy.  Everything just works better.  It’s easier to think clearly.  You recognize solutions so much faster.  The outcome is accuracy and higher quality.  Kindness increases happiness, happiness increases performance, and everyone involved enjoys the benefits.  It reminds me of something my friend Ashley told me: 

“As a waitress, for multiple years…  I’ve realized one consistent thing, and [that’s] the reward of kindness.  Not only do I… feel happy when I’m kind, but in return, people ask me my name, want to sit with me again and again, and coincidentally, I make more money than I did before - a lot more.” 

Happy employees, happy customers, and business growth from it all – wouldn’t that make you happy too?  

TRY THIS: Make kindness an official part of your company, by starting a program to recognize and reward it.  The company my cousin works for has the employees use an app to report acts of kindness from their coworkers.  Management gets notified through the app, and then the employee reported about is rewarded with points that he/she can use to buy things from local vendors.  

You might use an app, or you might have people sending emails.  You might come up with a point system to qualify for rewards.  You might reward people who do the reporting, as well as the ones reported about.  Your rewards might be monetary, or in the form of other gifts, or they might be things like tickets to cash in for a short work day with full pay, or even a paid day off.  Or you might do what other companies I’ve heard of have had success with, and throw a big celebration regularly, where each employee’s good deeds are shared with the group and cheered for.  


Kindness in the workplace is motivating, and it gives work meaning, and it gives us confidence, and it brings out the best in everyone, and it increases happiness.  - Joan Elmore

All that would have to have a positive impact on performance, so at this point, we all might want to hurry back to the office so that we can cover the place in good deeds.  

Since there are always ways to go overboard with anything, I will just toss out that this doesn’t mean you let responsibilities pile up while you all fly around doing nice things for each other, and it doesn’t mean you sacrifice quality, and it doesn’t mean you make kindness your only strategy. Let’s do it with wisdom and balance, and in a way that works for you and your company, and then I think it will be so worth it to you.  Because kindness will make your company a better place for everyone, and it will make everyone better for you.

Semira said it so well: “only good comes from being kind.”

Joanie is a part-time employee with a mission to end the Sunday Night Blues and start a new way of working. She uses what she’s learned from her experience to help employees have happiness, fulfillment, and high-performance in their jobs, with a revolutionary approach to goal achievement.  Learn more at: useyourjob.com/about    

Her latest book, As Its People: A 90-Day Challenge, is for employers, managers, team leaders, and HR professionals, and gives actions, strategies and habits for having motivated, engaged and high-performing employees.  It’s available in paperback and Kindle at: www.amazon.com/author/joanelmore