Did you know that Random Acts of Kindness Week officially kicked off on Monday? This annual event, sponsored by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, is intended to inspire kindness with a “pay it forward” mentality. In today’s society, and especially workplace culture, kindness, it seems, has fallen by the way side. People simply believe they don’t have the time, money, or energy to extend even a small amount of kindness, but times like these are exactly when we need a friendly smile or an unsolicited compliment the most.

Studies have shown that the effects of kindness not only make you feel good but also improve your mental and physical health. In 1991 Allan Luks, former executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of Health and executive director of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of New York City, conducted a study of several thousand volunteers located around the country to understand what their emotional state was like after they helped someone else. He determined that helping others and performing acts of kindness improved the overall health of study participants, even lowering stress.

So what are the workplace implications of Luks’s results? Well obviously we are living through some extremely difficult and stressful economic times, so if an act of kindness can help, even in some small way, wouldn’t you want to try it? And wouldn’t you want to try it in the workplace, which may well be the most stressful environment you are exposed to on a daily basis?

In my previous career, I was a volunteer trainer and manager in Washington, DC during some stressful times – think 9/11, Anthrax, sniper murders and the Iraq War. Also, if you’ve ever been a volunteer or managed them you know that it can often be a thankless job, because even though you are not getting paid, it is still a job. That’s why I always made a point to celebrate my volunteers everyday by going out of my way to send them thank-you notes, give them calls, or leave them treats. Often a simple smile and appreciative “thank you” did the trick.

So what did I learn from this? Not only did my small tokens of gratitude make my volunteers feel better about themselves and their work, but it also made me feel better. It was as if the feel-good feelings were contagious. And you know what? The volunteers noticed and several times reciprocated. Occasionally, I would find flowers on my desk, for no reason, given to me by a thankful volunteer, proving that kindness can be infectious.

This week I challenge you to start small by doing one act of kindness at work, whether it is simply welcoming a new hire, telling your boss you appreciate him or her, sharing positive news or quotes or even just a smile. Hopefully you’ll see the benefits immediately, and it will inspire you to make this a regular habit at work, one that you don’t even have to think about!