How to Create a Culture of Kindness in Your Small Business

Kindness in the workplace does more than feel good — it can actually improve your bottom line.
Teamwork Culture
Train and nurture your employees to stay effective for a more productive and profitable small business. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The average full-time working American will spend more than 80,000 hours of his life at work. As a business owner, it’s your job to create an environment in which employees are willing to spend that much of their lives. Start by insisting on a culture of kindness.

“Having a ‘culture of kindness’ means you treat everyone with respect and there is no room for judgments,” said Tanya Beaudry, director at leadership consulting group ConvertiCulture. “Think of culture as your business’s personality. Creating a team that has a culture of kindness is contagious and the reward is priceless.”

Beaudry said it has a direct impact on the bottom line. “Productivity, absenteeism and employee turnover are all improved within a culture of kindness.” Research shows happy employees are 12 percent more productive, and companies with an engaged workforce have 21 percent higher profitability.

The following tips from business owners and thought leaders can help you cultivate a culture of kindness in your small business and reap some of those “priceless” rewards.

Make it official

Chris Edmonds

Formalize culture-related expectations for your small business with an “organizational constitution,” suggests Chris Edmonds, author of “The Culture Engine.” (Photo: Chris Edmonds)

“The first step to creating a culture of kindness is to clearly define what that means,” said Jeff Toister, author of “The Service Culture Handbook.” Everyone comes to the table with her own definition of what kindness is. Articulating what it means for your small business is the first step to getting your whole team on the same page.

In his book “The Culture Engine,” Chris Edmonds, founder and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group, recommends owners formalize their culture-related expectations with an “organizational constitution” that outlines their team’s purpose and goals, company values and expected behaviors for employees. Many businesses require employees to comply with the constitution as part of their employment contract.

Set an example

As a business owner, it is your responsibility to model kindness. Do that by incorporating it into everything you do, said Evan Harris, co-founder and CEO of San Diego lending firm SD Equity Partners. “Kindness is infectious — it will spread from you to your employees, and ultimately find its way to customers too.”

How do you radiate kindness while still being the boss? Start by being approachable. Melissa Davies, workplace environment expert and author of “How Not to Act Like a Bleep at Work,” said simple habits like greeting others in the morning, making positive eye contact, smiling and paying attention during conversations go a long way to promote a kinder atmosphere.

Related: What Your Myers-Briggs Type Says about Your Leadership Style

Hire employees with shared values

Having employees who share your values is key to developing a strong culture for your small business. Matt Ham, owner of the tech repair chain Computer Repair Doctor, said he hires based on personality more than technical skill. “It’s much easier to teach someone a concrete skill like repairing an iPhone than it is to teach them how to be a positive and upbeat human being.”

Friendship in the Workplace

“Getting a better idea of the true personalities of the people you work with on a daily basis cultivates empathy to get through more stressful work situations.” -Mark Dorsey (Photo: Shutterstock)

Assume the best in people

You can foster a kinder environment by simply choosing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Julie Kearns, owner of Minneapolis vintage thrift boutique Junket: Tossed & Found, has made this an actual store policy — it’s even spelled out in agreements with vendors. “Conflicts are to be interpreted as communication gaps and resolved accordingly,” she said. “The same expectation is written into vendor contracts: We assume the best and act accordingly. Failure to honor our ‘benefit of the doubt’ climate is grounds for dismissal.”

Related: How to Have a Difficult Conversation with an Employee

Build empathy by building relationships

Mark Dorsey, co-founder and VP of business development for e-commerce marketplace, suggested business owners make a priority of developing relationships with their staff. “We make it a point to end the work day a little early on Friday to give everyone time to socialize with the people they share space with during the week. Getting a better idea of the true personalities of the people you work with on a daily basis cultivates empathy to get through more stressful work situations.”

Tim Conn, founder and president of commercial cleaning franchise Image One Facility Solutions, said he always begins staff meetings by having team members share something positive going on in their lives. “This sets the tone for the entire meeting and allows us to carry forward a positive focus throughout the day.”

Show respect

Employees want to know their contributions count. Letting employees weigh in on aspects of the business accomplishes this and also shows you respect them.

“As a small business owner, your time is valuable,” said Harris. “However, taking time to meet with your employees and listen to their ideas will empower them and show them that their opinions are valued.”

Related: How to Identify and Grow Your Top-Performing Employees

Show kindness as a team

Volunteering as a team in your local community is another way to support kindness in the workplace, said Toni Thompson, head of HR and diversity for millennial-focused career site The Muse. “There are a number of ways to create volunteer opportunities at your office. You can volunteer at a local soup kitchen as a team or support individual volunteer work by allocating paid days off for employees to volunteer with the charity of their choice.”

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