The Gift of Kindness at Work

As a coach, I have the privilege of hearing not only about clients’ challenges, but also about the countless kindnesses they experience—good deeds often privately offered by others when they’re most needed. In honor of the Season, I’d like to share a story that’s particularly touching and not as rare as you might think.

I once worked with a female client, whom I’ll call Anne, who had been diagnosed with a serious illness just following her coaching engagement. She worked for a very supportive manager who made every accommodation to aid her recovery, including off-loading a major project and arranging a reduced schedule so that she could work from home. While Anne was extremely grateful for her manager’s support, she suffered tremendous guilt for “abandoning the team” at a crucial point in their work. This feeling of guilt created additional stress at a time when she needed to focus on her healing above all else.

One afternoon during her final week at the office, Anne received an unexpected visit from the head of the division, whom I’ll call Tom, a senior leader with whom she’d had little personal contact. Although Tom had a reputation for being intensely driven with a singular focus on results, he approached her door with the softest knock and gentlest request for a few minutes of her time. Tom shared that her manager had told him of her illness, and he wanted to learn how he could be of support. He conveyed how important Anne’s contribution had been to the group’s success and how much the firm valued her. Tom listened carefully to Anne’s concerns about her work and family and shared a few resources that might be of help. They visited for over an hour, and by the time Tom left, Anne’s guilt had completely evaporated. She felt not only cherished by the firm, but also truly worthy of her manager’s and colleagues’ immense support.

When my client shared this story, I couldn’t help wondering if Tom truly grasped the impact of his decision to devote time to soothing an employee’s heart rather than addressing his many urgent business issues. Tom probably never knew how many times Anne was comforted by the memory of his kind words and support during her months of challenging recovery.

Fortunately, we can all recall examples of colleagues being “there for each other” when dramatic challenges occur: social media is replete with amazing stories of generosity and compassion. But I want to emphasize the significance of the small kindnesses that we offer each other on a daily basis. Deceptively small acts like listening to others’ concerns or helping people to feel included are precious gifts at moments of need and shouldn’t be underrated.

My wish for the holidays is that we not underestimate the true value of the kindnesses we extend to our colleagues this year. In a season when we’re easily distracted by material things, it’s refreshing to remember that being kind to our colleagues costs so little yet can mean so much. Sometimes seemingly inconsequential gestures can be the greatest gifts of all.


Copyright Jill Kanter, 2015