Identifying Ways to Reach a Kinder Work Environment

I’ve been recruiting for over 15 years and during those years I’ve worked with great companies and not so great companies. How do I know the difference?  Well, one way is the feedback that I receive from my candidates when I ask them how their new job is working out.  Are they being treated well? Are they respected?  Are you receiving the support you need to be successful in your new position? Another way I can gauge how good a company is to work for is the number of times that I receive the same job order over and over, or there are always job openings when the client isn’t growing (these usually indicate a bad working environment). 

Sometimes employee retention can be as simple as “kindness in the workplace”.



by Rex Huppke

I’ve spent the week with a head full of questions.

Why don’t we apply more of what we know about human behavior to the workplace? Every aspect of work culture has been studied 5,000 times over – why isn’t everything perfect? Should I have one more scoop of ice cream? (Of course I should.)

But the big question I landed on was this: Why is it so difficult for workplaces to achieve widespread kindness and the efficiency that would logically follow?

We know what works. I didn’t land on my mantra – Be a decent human being – by accident. It’s the distillation of studies and surveys and books and the opinions of big thinkers and successful managers.

Being nice is the right thing to do, but it also reaps benefits in a work environment. People will like you. They’ll work harder for you.  They’ll be more loyal. They’ll follow your lead and be nicer themselves.

It’s as simple as 2+2=4, but we treat it like it’s a complex quadratic equation. It’s as if simple logic is trumped by a baked-in belief that kindness isn’t compatible with success in the working world.

What led me down this rabbit hole is the work of Mary Rowe, an adjunct professor of negotiation and conflict management at the MIT Sloan School of Management. In the early 1970’s she coined the terms “micro-inequities” and “micro-affirmations.”

In a 2008 paper, she defined micro-inequities as “apparently small events which are often ephemeral and hard-to-prove, events which are covert, often unintentional, frequently unrecognized by the perpetrator.”

Basically, it’s the little things – the little mean or thoughtless or selfish things we do, sometimes without thinking, that can accumulate and create a toxic environment.

In her research Row noticed: “Little acts of disrespect, and failures in performance feedback, seemed to corrode some professional relationships like bits of sand and ice.”

If we engage in small acts of jerkitude, it stands to reason that we might also commit unconscious acts of kindness. Those are the micro-affirmations: “Small acts, which are often ephemeral and hard-to-see, events that are public and private, often unconscious but very effective, which occur wherever people wish to help others to succeed.”

Those sound nice, right?

Rowe wrote: “Micro-affirmations lie in the practice of generosity, in consistently giving credit to others – in providing comfort and support when others are in distress, when there has been a failure at the bench, or an idea that did not work out, or a public attack. Micro-affirmations include the myriad details of fair, specific, timely, consistent and clear feedback that help a person build on strength and correct weakness.”

At the top of her list of actions people can take to decrease micro-inequities and increase micro-affirmations is: “Managers can and should pay attention to ‘small things’.”

And how does one pay attention to small things? BY BEING A DECENT HUMAN BEING!!!

The micro behaviors Rowe has studied, I believe, are directly tied to macro behaviors. If you’re consciously a kind and thoughtful person, our unconscious behaviors will trend in that direction as well.  If you’re overtly an alpha-dog determined to get his or her way, your unconscious behaviors will trend toward the more inequitable.

Which brings us back to our question: Why is it so difficult for workplaces to achieve wide-spread kindness and the efficiency that would logically follow?

This may seem like a micro-inequity, or maybe even a macro one, but the answer is: I don’t know.

Workplaces are complicate and our work culture has long put an emphasis on toughness and discipline. Old habits die hard, I suppose.

I asked Row about all this in an email and she responded, suggesting: “In your next column, ask each reader to discuss with one other person the idea that kindness and respect would create happier workers and more productive workplaces. And then to ask that person to ask one more.”

So I’ll ask you all to do that, because it seems no harm can come from such a thing.

And I’ll also ask you to share your opinions on this subject. Has your company figured out a way to promote kindness? What do you think are the main roadblocks to applying what we know about the benefits of being nice in the workplace?

Is this all a pipe dream? Are we doomed to micro-inequities and the drawbacks of bad behavior?

I’m not naive enough to think this exercise will solve monumental problems. Buy maybe it helps a little.

2016 Chicago Tribune

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