How kindness begets kindness in the workplace

Goodwill is the true measure of a company’s longevity and success

James C. Rhee, former CEO and executive chairman of plus-size clothing chain Ashley Stewart, had the monumental task of returning the company to profitability from the throes of bankruptcy. 

A clothing lnie that caters to and employs mainly African-American women, Rhee, a Korean-American man, was met with scepticism when he first took on the CEO role. He also had zero experience running a fashion company, making him the most unlikely candidate for the job.

But through spreading a culture of kindness and the practice of goodwill, he won his employees over, and even inspired them to work towards the common goal of turning the business around. Rhee spent seven years at the company, pulling Ashley Stewart out of 20 years of losses into a bustling business employing over 1,000 people. 

Today, Ashley Stewart has an e-commerce platform employing over 1000 people. It opened its first store in New Jersey after emerging from bankruptcy, and is now shipping to Canada, the UK and the Caribbean. 

Making kindness a principal value at work

Rhee insisted that employees practised kindness as much as possible. By doing so, he created an environment that fostered teamwork and empathy. 

His reasons for instilling kindness include creating a safe place for innovation, as well as spreading the joy of teamwork and problem-solving.

There is proof that kindness at work is contagious, according to a 2018 experiment called Everyday prosociality in the workplace: The reinforcing benefits of giving, getting, and glimpsing.

In the experiment,  researchers assigned employees in a Spanish corporate workplace to be Givers, Receivers and Controls. Givers practised five acts of kindness for a selected list of receivers over four weeks. 

The researchers found that Givers and Receivers mutually benefited in well-being in both the short-term (for instance, they rated highly in feelings of competence and autonomy); and the long-term (for instance, Receivers became happier after two months into the experiments). 

Givers also reported higher levels of happiness and satisfaction with their lives and jobs.

In addition, Givers’ acts of kindness, or prosocial acts, inspired others to act the same way. Receivers paid their acts of kindness forward with 278 percent more prosocial behaviours than Controls.

Some of the biggest and most successful companies in the world are not necessarily the most cutthroat. One example is Berkshire Hathaway, a conglomerate owned by Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in the world.

The conglomerate has been lauded by employees  for its ethical code, its autonomy among managers, and its focus on performance.

For Buffett, the true measure of success is not how much money you have in the bank, but the giving and receiving of love and kindness.

“When you’re nearing your end of life, your only measure of success should be the number of people you want to have love you actually do love you,” said Buffett in a speech.

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