Spreading kindness to communities
Wells Fargo is adding kindness to its employee service and giving.
Michael Riordan has a framed, handwritten note from his late wife Jennifer that has meant a lot to him and his children over the last couple of years. The note says, “Be kind, loving, caring, and sharing.” It was his wife’s mantra and has become a mantra for his family and the organization they started in her honor, The Jennifer Riordan Foundation, after Jennifer, a Wells Fargo employee, tragically lost her life aboard Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 on April 17, 2018.
“It’s so easy to hear the negative and talk about the negative,” Michael Riordan said. “We want to provide a platform through Jennifer’s name where people can go to see all of the kindness going on in the world. We want to capture part of those so people can see what a kind world we actually have, that there are kind people out there.”
Like Jennifer Riordan, many Wells Fargo employees share a desire to spread kindness and perform simple, informal acts that make life brighter in their communities. Wells Fargo is tapping into this emphasis on kindness as part of the Month of Action, which serves as the September kickoff to a new year-round approach to employee service and giving. Employees are participating in the Month of Action by taking part in virtual volunteer opportunities with select charities, making financial gifts to their favorite cause or to the WE Care Fund to help colleagues in need, or by performing acts of kindness, a new component of the year-round effort.
“As we worked to evolve our employee philanthropy program to be broader than financial giving, kindness became an important focal point, as it brings people together on a personal level,” said Lynne Walters, head of Shared Services for Social Impact & Sustainability. “Michael’s work to honor Jennifer through the foundation was a great source of reference for our work.”
“We want to provide a platform through Jennifer’s name where people can go to see all of the kindness going on in the world. We want to capture part of those so people can see what a kind world we actually have, that there are kind people out there.” — Michael Riordan
Wells Fargo has provided a kindness calendar for employees that begins with learning about the international kindness movement by visiting The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, The Jennifer Riordan Foundation, and Kindness.org. Other suggested acts of kindness on the calendar include telling someone things you appreciate about them, making sure everyone feels included in virtual meetings, or contacting a veteran to thank them for their service.
The company is also sharing 100 kindness ideas for employees to demonstrate kindness to themselves, others, and the planet. The ideas include sending someone flowers, going for a long walk, texting someone a positive message, supporting a small business, and practicing meditation.
Several Wells Fargo employees have also reached out to Michael Riordan for ideas about incorporating acts of kindness in their daily work. “Once you open your heart to kindness, it really does warm your heart,” he said.
Seth Serxner, chief health officer and senior vice president of Population Health for the health care organization Optum, said the data supports that. “On a personal level, I think we all agree that it just feels good to help someone else, whether that’s helping someone carry their groceries, or volunteering to mentor at-risk kids,” he said. “As a researcher-numbers guy, it’s gratifying to see that the studies confirm it has a proven positive effect on our physical and mental health.”
“On a personal level, I think we all agree that it just feels good to help someone else, whether that’s helping someone carry their groceries, or volunteering to mentor at-risk kids.” — Seth Serxner
In a recent virtual event for Wells Fargo employees, Serxner and Chanty Clay, head of Team Member Philanthropy for Wells Fargo, and Anita Shaughnessy, well-being benefits manager for Wells Fargo’s Human Resources, shared how volunteering and acts of kindness can provide health benefits and may help with coping with emotional stress stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. The event was a unique collaboration between Team Member Philanthropy and Human Resources that illustrated the intersectionality between health, well-being, and doing good work in the community, at a time when many people’s personal and professional lives are blended more than ever.
“When you think about the pandemic and the negative impact on emotional and social well-being, it’s critical to build resiliency, and a great way to do that is practicing acts of kindness, or helping others,” Serxner said. “I call it lifting others to lift yourself. The connection between acts of kindness, volunteering, and mental/emotional health is really dramatic. In a Carnegie Mellon University study, 93% of volunteers reported improvements in their mood, and 79% reported lower stress levels after volunteering. That’s a pretty powerful prescription for self-help with the added benefit of helping others.”
“Personally, I find that people tend to bond with each other during shared acts of service to others.” — Seth Serxner
And participating in volunteer opportunities, like the virtual ones currently provided for Wells Fargo employees, also has benefits, Serxner said. “Personally, I find that people tend to bond with each other during shared acts of service to others,” he said. “When we bring our teams to volunteer activities — even virtual ones — not only does the act itself create resiliency, but a lasting connection to other participants is built.”
Wells Fargo is embracing this new approach during the remainder of September and throughout the year. “Informal acts of kindness, as well as service and giving, are a part of who we are,” Walters said. “We are happy to support our communities year-round, especially as many people are currently facing challenging times.”