It was four years ago. I was facilitating a roundtable discussion among nine CIOs about what service really means in an enterprise. And I will never, ever forget the story one of them shared.
Kindness starts in the C-suite.
“I realized I had a bunch of people who didn’t want to provide any service to our employees,” he said. “They didn’t care, weren’t especially nice, and definitely weren’t considerate of what people needed and why.” In a group usually dedicated to metrics and efficiency, this newly seated CIO’s biggest challenge was that his new IT team wasn’t being kind.
He ended up rebuilding the entire team.
His rationale? “If someone in my IT organization isn’t thoughtful and doesn’t care, the guy whose laptop fried the night before his huge customer presentation won’t be able to present. But even worse, he won’t feel like he or the customer matters if we don’t do everything to help him.”
These IT leaders had companies ranging in size from 10,000 to well over 100,000 people. Four years later, I can confirm that those who talked about the need to serve employees so they could take care of customers have done remarkably better—in profit, customer and employee satisfaction, and stock price—than the ones who focused mainly on efficiency.
Today, that “kindness mindset” of serving employees to care for customers is more important than ever.
Why kindness matters
When Covid hit, employees everywhere faced significant barriers to productivity and their ability to contribute at their pre-pandemic level.
As an HR leader, I heard tons of stories about how quickly organizations had to respond to give people what they needed to work from home—the equipment access levels and information that were no longer obtainable by just leaning over a cube. Looking back at those first dark days, the innovation and collaboration organizations embraced to keep people working safely and productively from home are mind-blowing.
Yet someone can have the right remote setup and still face massive difficulties. As the pandemic lingers on, prolonged stress is taking a toll. Some employees are anxious and depressed from extended isolation. Some contracted Covid and are struggling to get back to the life they had.
So many people have struggled through the pandemic, and employers are in a position to help.
When organizations find kind, thoughtful ways to support employees, it profoundly affects people’s lives.
Kindness in action
I’ve seen firsthand the impact of putting people first. These three examples from our amazing customers demonstrate how to go beyond lip service to putting the kindness mindset into action:
1) Supporting employees returning to the workforce after being ill with Covid
One customer demonstrated empathy for employees who had contracted Covid by building a thoughtful framework to help people rejoin once they had recovered. This drove retention and engagement over time, but also showed a commitment to doing the right thing regardless of business impact.
2) Making a furlough manageable
Kindness matters most when bad news is inevitable. One company was forced to furlough a portion of its workforce when Covid hit. Knowing the last thing people needed was to chase down paperwork, this organization made the process digital and fully mobile. Furlough letters were automatically generated and made available for easy download. Employees were genuinely thankful that the company cared enough to make a really distressing situation a little less awful.
3) Checking in on solo employees
During lockdown, one customer in Australia took multiple steps to check in with their workforce, especially employees living in isolation. The concern went beyond business and was genuinely about whether people were ok.
They aligned with their employee assistance program (EAP) to check in with every employee twice over the lockdown.. They found that more than 15% of their people needed to tap into their EAP for further services—many more than the 2% figure for EAP usage pre-Covid. In such cases, the support an organization provides can potentially save a marriage or even a life.
If you can be anything, be kind. Because when leaders of all functions go above and beyond to support employees by aligning their actions with their words, the impact to the organization—and its people—is huge.
And even small kindnesses add up. If this article reminds you of someone who exemplifies the kindness mindset, send it their way with a note of thanks. It might be just what they need today.
Tracey Fritcher is a director in the employee experience business within ServiceNow, helping leaders focus on what their people need to be productive and engaged. She is