Fostering a Culture of Kindness

The Undercover Kindness team, consisting of five staff members, began writing kind, heart-shaped notes, providing words of encouragement and thanking the staff for everything they do.

(Originally published in the July 2021 edition of The Walleye Magazine)

The past year has been extremely challenging for the health care profession. Health care workers are experiencing increasing rates of anxiety, depression, stress, and burnout due to the pandemic. Still, the staff, professional staff, and volunteers at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (TBRHSC) continue to show remarkable resilience and dedication, showing up to work every day ready to provide exceptional care to our patients. With this in mind, Prevention and Screening Clinical Services at TBRHSC developed the Undercover Kindness Mission to spread kindness throughout our hospital, boost morale, and let their colleagues know that their hard work has not gone unnoticed.

“With pandemic restrictions in place, we have been unable to hold on-site or in-person wellness events for staff. The Undercover Kindness Mission seemed like the perfect opportunity to reach both clinical and non-clinical staff,” says Kelly-Jo Gillis, manager of preventive health services at TBRHSC. “During times of stress and change, it’s important not to forget or overlook the importance of being kind. One small act of kindness can make someone’s day, and at the same time, contribute to creating a culture of kindness in our hospital and community.”

The Undercover Kindness team, consisting of five staff members, began writing kind, heart-shaped notes, providing words of encouragement and thanking the staff for everything they do. These handwritten notes were placed randomly on the windshields of cars in the hospital staff parking lots, sent through interoffice mail, and taped in other public locations to be found by unsuspecting staff members.

Sabrina Karpowich, the administrative assistant for adult and forensic mental health at TBRHSC, was the recipient of one of these anonymous notes. She may not have known who it came from but it impacted the rest of her day. “It had been a busy day and I was looking forward to going home to unwind. As I got to my vehicle, I saw the note under the windshield wiper. Reading it instantly brought a feeling of comfort and relief,” says Karpowich. “Times have been tough over the last 15 months. It meant a lot to see that people are still showing compassion for others. It also inspired me to pay it forward because I wanted someone else to feel the same happiness and love that I felt receiving the note.”

The message spread far beyond this single piece of paper when Karpowich shared pictures of the note on Facebook and Instagram. “Not only did the note bring me happiness in that moment, but I was so excited to share with others on social media,” she says. “I was overjoyed by the sweet comments I got in response. It’s nice to feel appreciated.”

Since April, notes have been appearing around the hospital for both visitors and staff. Each note is slightly different but they all encourage the recipient to pay it forward. To date there have been hundreds of notes distributed. The group is hoping that this initiative will spread to other businesses and across our community, creating a culture of kindness in a time where we can all benefit from it.

Acts of kindness don’t go unnoticed and they can have a huge impact on the overall positivity of a workplace or community. Often, we walk by those who feel disconnected from the world, lost and alone. Random acts of kindness, like these heart-shaped notes, have been proven to boost our mood and mental health. They can make people feel connected, give them a sense of purpose, and let them know that they are appreciated. They can also be exactly what you need at the end of a long day.

Joining this kindness movement is simple:

  • Visit and print out the heart-shaped template
  • Write a kind or motivational message and remind the recipient to pay it forward
  • Decorate the heart and cut it out
  • Leave the heart for a friend, coworkers, family member, or stranger to find

Remember, spreading kindness is not limited to these heart-shaped notes. It can even be as simple as saying hello to a stranger, holding the door open, or wishing someone a great day. Sometimes it’s the smallest gesture that can have the biggest impact on someone’s day.