Random Acts of Kindness

Building Altruism at Work

"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."– Aesop

When was the last time you surprised someone at your workplace with a cup of tea or coffee, just because you thought they might need it? Or how long has it been since a colleague brought in cakes, just as an unexpected treat for everyone?

It can be a real pleasure working in a friendly environment, where people greet one another with warm smiles and show genuine interest in colleagues' well-being. And sometimes all it takes to create that positive atmosphere is a few "random acts of kindness."

It's entirely possible to have a productive and hardworking team in a workplace that is efficient, but "cold" and impersonal. Perhaps you work in an industry where staff turnover is high and it is difficult for people to get to know one another. But you and your team can make things much better if you share a little kindness!

In this article, we explore what is meant by random acts of kindness, and we see how they can benefit you and your team. We also suggest some simple ones you can try!

Click here to view a transcript of this video.

What Are Random Acts of Kindness?

Writer Anne Herbert is thought to have coined the phrase in 1982, when she wrote "practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty" on a placemat at a restaurant in California. Her book, "Random Kindness & Senseless Acts of Beauty," was published in 1993.

There's nothing complicated about a random act of kindness. It covers just about anything that you do purely for someone else's benefit. As we've already mentioned, it could be bringing a colleague a cup of coffee, or offering to help out if they are "snowed under" with work.

The idea has proved immensely popular. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has established an annual International Random Acts of Kindness Week, and it has promoted February 17 as "Random Acts of Kindness Day" in the U.S.

The Benefits of Kindness

In his 2009 book, "Born To Be Good," Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, says that it's in our nature to feel compassion toward other people and to act on it, even when there is no obvious personal reward. When we see someone in distress, our innate human response is to help. The roots of this behavior may be based in our survival instincts: people who support and help one another are more likely to develop stronger social bonds and thrive as a community.

And while random acts of kindness are intended to benefit the people receiving them, numerous studies have shown that the people doing the good deeds also feel pleasure and happiness as a result.

When you perform random acts of kindness at work, you help build high-quality connections with your team members. And there are other ways that life in the workplace can be boosted by the knock-on effects of kindness. For example, if your kindness makes someone feel happy, she will likely be more engaged and successful. What's more, people who feel supported and part of a friendly, inclusive team will less likely feel angry or stressed.

There is a saying, "One good turn deserves another." That means if you do someone a favor, chances are they will repay you in kind. And the same can be said for random acts of kindness. They can create a "ripple effect" whereby the person you help may be inspired to do the same for someone else, and so on in a virtual cascade of kindness. In fact, according to psychologist Jonathan Haidt, just witnessing an act of kindness can prompt someone to follow suit.

10 Random Acts of Kindness You Can Perform at Work

There are many things you can do that count as random acts of kindness. Think about what would benefit the people around you, or try to spot anything specific that a person may need. Here are 10 ideas to get you started:

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  1. Send someone a note of appreciation.
  2. Eat lunch with a new team member.
  3. Bring in cakes for your team.
  4. Offer a colleague a ride home.
  5. Give team members an impromptu afternoon off for doing a great job.
  6. Compliment someone to their boss.
  7. Help a co-worker with a challenging project, even when you're busy.
  8. Volunteer as a first aider.
  9. Ask after a colleague's sick relative, and listen to their answer.
  10. Smile at people you work with!


Change your activities every so often. Doing the same thing over and over can get boring and lose its impact. Similarly, performing acts of kindness for only one person or group may lead some individuals to feel left out. To avoid your acts of kindness becoming routine or perceived as favoritism, get creative, add some variety, and spread the warmth around.


Compassion, empathy and altruism are natural human characteristics, but some people struggle with giving and receiving kindness. They may feel unsure or fearful of how others might perceive their actions. They may believe they have nothing to give, or feel that they don't deserve to receive kindness, or question the motive for it.

If this describes you, our articles on Emotional Intelligence, Boosting Your Self-Esteem, Building Self-Confidence, and Developing Self-Awareness can help you to address some of these issues.

Key Points

Random acts of kindness can be big or small things you do just for the benefit of someone else. It also feels good to help or support people, although that is a happy consequence and not the intended aim of the act.

The knock-on effects of kindness in the workplace are considerable. It creates stronger bonds among team members, and can make them feel engaged and motivated, which can lead to better performance.

Any act of kindness that you perform with genuine altruism makes a difference to you, the recipient and your organization, whether it's making someone a cup of coffee, listening to an anxious colleague, or bringing donuts to the morning meeting.

Apply This to Your Life

Can you think of any random acts of kindness you can do inside or outside of work? Perhaps you can bring in your neighbor's garbage cans, visit an elderly relative, become a volunteer at a local shelter, or offer to look after a busy friend's children after school. The book Random Acts of Kindness provides lots more ideas.

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Comments (14)
  • Over a month ago Yolande wrote
    Sometimes a small opportunity to do a random act of kindness can make a big difference to someone else.
  • Over a month ago BillT wrote
    Hello anonymous333333,

    Thank you for your random act of kindness.

    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago anonymous333333 wrote
    Love to you!
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