Pay it Forward is an expression that most of us know because of the Kevin Spacey movie that came out about 10 years ago.  The movie was based on a book by Catherine Ryan Hyde, and the expression itself may have originated close to 100 years ago.   Now there is a pay it forward foundation, and a “movement.”

The concept is easy:  When you are the beneficiary of a good deed, and you can’t exactly pay back the kindness (to that same person), pay it forward by doing 3 good deeds to others, preferably strangers; random acts of kindness.

I’m not sure how you feel about it, but the world may be a little less kindly place than it was 10 years ago, and open hostility is often in the headlines!  So, I appreciated the opportunity when one of my people recommended this topic as a good reminder of what the workplace can be if we all have the right point of view toward each other.

Given that Pay it Forward is supposed to be done to strangers, how do we exemplify this in the workplace?  By doing more than what is expected not just in tasks, but on the human side.  Here are a few ideas:

Mentor: If you are more experienced than others around you, help them get up to speed, even if your boss hasn’t asked you to.  So many experienced people see their juniors in the company as a threat, but did you think that if you help them be better it actually increases your value to the company?

Include: Are their cliques at your company, and are there some people who always seem like outsiders?  Take them with you to lunch.  You have no idea what a simple invitation can do for a lonely person.

Support:  If you know that one of your co-workers is suffering, or someone seems moody or grumpy, ask what you can do to help.  Use the 2 ears / 1 mouth ratio (listen, don’t advise).  Sometimes sitting silently and listening to someone vent can cheer them up.  Maintain an awareness of appropriate boundaries.  You are probably closer to some coworkers than others, so if your gut tells you it isn’t appropriate to discuss something, you are probably right.  But for those where you can be close, it is an incredible gift to help someone who is emotionally low.  You might make their day.

Acknowledge: We take so much for granted at work, including when people are just doing their jobs.  Thank people for little things.  Catch people doing things right, especially if you are in a position to criticize when they do something wrong.  A motto I’ve written about before is “Take all the blame and give all the credit” – this will make you a hero in the eyes of the other person.

Volunteer: Does a coworker need help on a project, and you have time to help?  Do it. Both of you will feel great.

Let Go: How many times do we come home and complain to a spouse or a friend about petty things that have gone on during the day.  When you walk in the next day, do you still hold a grudge, or resent the other person?  Ask yourself if it will matter in a month; in a year; and if not, ask yourself how long you want to carry it around.  The expression “Letting go” sounds too much like giving something up to many people, but in fact it is the most empowering thing we can do – it immediately makes room for joy and other positive experiences.  AND, it is always a gift to the other person to.  So do that paradigm shift, and let go ASAP.

Do these sound like little things?  They are, but they add up.  If you are lucky, you are in a workplace where people are considerate, and acts of kindness, random or thoughtful, occur regularly.  But in many places, we need to think about it just a little to make it happen regularly.

And remember, what goes around, comes around.  People who pay it forward are the recipient of more abundance and joy in their lives, directly and indirectly.

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Comment by Tim Spagnola on August 19, 2011 at 12:33pm
Hope you had a good vacation Mark. This was my first date with my Wife, but much more importantly it is great to see this as movement taking hold. Before it was even coined 'Pay it forward' it was a general principle of how I just went about conducting myself in both a personal/professional manner. To see how this concept can't relate back to the office is very interesting. Imagine if more organizations adopted this general philosophy into their culture. Yes- a bit utopian perhaps, but what a difference it could make. Thanks (as always) for sharing.
Comment by Kirby Cole on August 22, 2011 at 10:51pm
One of the things I have been fortunate to do as a means of "Paying it Forward" is providing advise and counsel to folks that are going through the job search and negotiation process.  Through years of being on the receiving end of candidates negotiation recruiters have a wealth of knowledge they can share with people to help them better their situation.

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