From small talk to significant talk

From small talk to significant talk

I climb into Kevin’s Lyft vehicle. It has holes in the seat and reeks of day-old tuna fish. “How is it possible that he has a perfect five-star rating?” I wonder.

After a few minutes of chit chat, Kevin asks if I know anybody with Down’s Syndrome. When I tell him that I don’t, he says “That’s a shame!” He shares that Ava, his nine-year-old daughter who has Down’s Syndrome, is “a blessing to the world.” He’s so animated when he talks about this genetic disorder that I find myself asking a series of questions. Kevin teaches me that although individuals with Down’s Syndrome are cognitively impaired, they can usually become dedicated and effective employees. I’ve never considered hiring an individual with Down’s Syndrome, but I will now.

I ask Kevin how often he talks to passengers about Down’s Syndrome. “As often as I can!” he says. He explains that he won’t disturb anybody absorbed by their electronic device or trying to rest. But he says that if he’s already talking to a passenger, “Why not have a meaningful conversation instead of one about the weather?” Why not indeed.

The way Kevin sees it, every person that leaves his vehicle with an appreciation for individuals with Down’s Syndrome makes it more likely that his daughter and others who are intellectually disabled will be treated with dignity throughout their lives. “If I didn’t try to educate passengers, this job would feel like a pointless grind.” Kevin is experiencing what researchers have proven: We are happier at jobs that contribute to others or to societal causes (see prior post).

Kevin demonstrates that those of us who communicate with others at work can build awareness and support for a societal issue — and without being annoying! We can do good at work, a practice called job purposing (learn more in a prior post), through advocacy. Following are other examples of workers doing non-annoying workplace advocacy:

– A self-described 100% Irish presenter at a meeting in Toronto starts his presentation by honoring the Native Americans who inhabited the location where the conference is held with a short description of the tribes. He also invites attendees to sign a petition asking the Canadian government to honor its promises to indigenous people.

– A restaurant eliminates all the letter b’s from its menu as a way to bring awareness to the alarming decline in the world’s bee population.

– A cashier wears a button that says “Ask me how to know if someone is having a stroke.” When I ask, he teaches me the acronym FAST with the help of a small card (F is for face, reminding us to ask the person to smile; A is for arms, reminding us to raise both arms high; S is for speech, reminding us to ask the person to repeat a simple statement; and T is for time, reminding us to call for emergency medical assistance if the person had difficulty with any of the above requests). When I thank him, he says “Thank you! Someone who made the effort to learn FAST, like you just did, saved my wife’s life.”

– An English pop-rock band, “The 1975,” features climate-change activist Greta Thunberg delivering a speech on one of its songs.

– The Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel and Casino educates the public about rare and endangered birds at its 15-acre on-site bird sanctuary.

– Bill, the director of sales at a hotel housed in a historic building, decides to give free building tours to encourage others to value and preserve historic structures.

–  Levi Strauss & Co. put what it calls “A Care Tag for Our Planet,” on its clothing. After the usual instructions such as “machine wash in cold water with like colors,” it adds “donate to Goodwill when no longer needed and care for our planet.”

In other words, there appears to be an infinite variety of ways to advocate and, thus, do good at work.

A few hours later, I open the Lyft email asking for a review of my ride with Kevin. I instinctively tap on five stars. With my finger is still resting on the fifth star, I remember the foul condition of his vehicle. After witnessing his passion for helping those with Down’s Syndrome, my objection to his grimy car seems petty. It turns out that I’m not the only one who reacts this way. Research has found that people are generally less likely to get angry and spread negative word of mouth over bad service when the party pursues social purpose as Kevin does. This might very well answer the question I asked myself upon entering Kevin’s car: How could he possibly have a perfect five-star rating?

I hit submit and, despite his grubby vehicle, job-purposing Kevin gets another perfect review.


Learn more about Bea's book, Do Good at Work.

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