the plant saver, the altruistic horse, and other stories of kindness at work — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

Last week we talked about kindness at work. Here are 15 of my favorites of the stories you shared.

1. The teachers

I’m a teacher. Ive been at schools where our faculty has arranged housing and supplies for families after devestating fires. Currently, we’re gathering money to support one teacher (medical bills, heating issues) and another (family medical emergency). We regularly feed and cloth our students. I buy books and supplies for kids. I’ve had one student our entire department “adopted” from K-12. We bought her books, winter clothes, year books, food, went to her club sports games, paid for her extra curricular fees. I went to her graduation-her own parents didn’t show. I guess this is just to say … if you’re not a teacher you may not have any idea what all we are doing to try and keep these kids alive and loved.

2. The move

About two years ago, I moved cross-country to take my current job. The relative who lived nearby and was supposed to help me move in to my new house flaked on me, and the place I was moving to is a very remote, tiny village, so hiring help from the nearest town would have been astronomically expensive, especially on my budget. I posted a desperate message on the employee Facebook group to see if anyone could take ten minutes out of their day to help me carry a few larger pieces of furniture I knew I couldn’t move on my own.

When I arrived at my new house, four of my new coworkers I had never met before showed up with a housewarming gift, stayed to help me unload my entire U-haul, and helped me put together some of my furniture. What probably would have taken me all day to unload on a dangerously hot August day only ended up taking about 45 minutes.

3. The theft

I was a very new employee at a law firm and in the middle of a lot of life stuff: divorce, two children, elderly parents, and commuting. I was barely making ends meet. I had $100 for groceries in my wallet which was in my backpack and I got on the subway. When I got to my office, my backpack was unzipped and my wallet was gone, along with my grocery money.

I was really upset and my boss asked me what was going on. Then heard him on the phone talking to one of our vendors (he HATED talking to vendors) and arranging to go out to lunch that day. At 11:30 am, he told me to get my jacket, we’re going out. I was then wined and dined at a very fancy steakhouse for the next three hours. We got back to the office, slightly tipsy and feeling a little better about the world. When I got back to my desk, there was an envelope with $150 in cash and a note from all my coworkers telling me that they had my back. When I protested that this was more money than was stolen from me, my boss said, “Well, you need to buy a new wallet too, don’t you?”

4. The puppy

I was mid-20s when my childhood dog died. She had a stroke on a Saturday night, and the vet told me on the phone that there wasn’t enough time for me to get home because of her pain. She was my buddy.

At church on Sunday, I saw a coworker. She asked if I was okay, and I told her.

At work on Monday, I lost it while making copies before school in the front office. I got to my first period, and one of my high school sophomore male students looked at me and asked if I was okay. I told their class about my dog. He asked if he could check his phone because his mom was texting him – not uncommon – and I said sure.

35 minutes later, the principal and that mom walked in my classroom with that student’s new four-month-old puppy. My principal covered the rest of my morning classes, and I got to cry on, cuddle with, and play with a puppy – which healed a little bit of my broken heart.

5. The plants

I worked at a children’s museum at the onset of the pandemic, and most of the staff were enthusiastic Plant People. The office was full of plants of all kinds, some of which were decades old. People would get attached to other people’s plants, which were usually propagated or bequeathed to the office when folks retired or resigned. Folks would leave detailed instructions for the care of their plants when going on vacation or parental leave. On March 13, 2020 we stayed late preparing all the office plants to survive the two weeks (LOL) that the museum would be closed to mitigate the spread of Covid.

Obviously we did not go back after two weeks, by which time we were scrambling 24/7 to retain members, find cash to keep folks on payroll, and pivot to virtual programming. If anyone was thinking about the plants, we weren’t talking to each other about the plants.

Unfortunately, 80% of staff were laid off at the end of the July 2020, myself included. We had to arrange a day and time with the head of facilities to get access to the museum office to pack up our desks and return work laptops, etc. I remember driving over there and being overcome with sadness at the prospect of seeing all those dead plants.

Reader, there were no dead plants. The plants were just as healthy as the day we closed! Apparently the facilities guy (let’s call him Dan) had been taking care of the plants the entire time without mentioning anything to anyone!

Dan was always grumpy and never spoke more than was absolutely necessary, but it was the kind of workplace where everyone was friendly to him even if it was never reciprocated. He’d been there 30+ years and was never engaged in the plant mania in any way, but clearly it mattered to him that the plants were a big deal to us.

I took home some of my plants that day as well as clippings from a few communal plants I was particularly fond of, and today they’re thriving in my home office several states away. I really loved that job, so it means a lot to me to have a physical reminder of that part of my life. Really grateful to Dan for making it possible.

6. The plane tickets

My husband was away on a business trip to Europe when I received the news that his father had unexpectedly passed away. I had no way to reach my husband so I reached out to his boss. His boss’s response was for me to not worry, that he’d get ahold of my husband with the news.

About 45 minutes later he called me back to tell me that my husband would be on arriving that about midnight that same night, and would I be home for the next hour or so? Within the hour there was a knock on the door, I expected it to be a fruit basket or some flowers. It was not a gift basket, it was two plane tickets, return tickets to our home city, business class, on a flight leaving first thing the next morning. The return ticket was undated and they were issued by the travel service used by the company for all business related travel.

When we returned from our time at home for the funeral my husband took a thank-you card and went to speak with his boss. His boss had “absolutely no idea” that we’d received any travel assistance from anyone at the company and there was no way to arrange for us to reimburse them for the cost of tickets “that never existed.”

7. The pasta

In August of 2022, I fell off a boat, landing on the mooring gubbins, breaking five ribs. My boss, realizing I’d have to cancel my holiday to Italy, sent me pasta and sauces from a pretty high end pasta delivery service, saying that if I couldn’t go to Italy, it would come to me. I was VERY touched.

Entertainingly, some months later, I discovered another box from the same place on my doorstep. I messaged my boss, thanking him – I was very surprised and slightly confused. I realised then what had happened (and he admitted it) – he was ordering pasta for his own family and forgot to change the delivery address. He let me keep the pasta and we laughed about it 🙂

8. The phones

A coworker had a stroke in the office one morning, and he was rushed to the hospital. We were all obviously quite shaken. Two people from a business across the street heard what happened and walked over to cover our phones for the rest of the day so we could all focus on our coworker and one another.

9. The boss

My first boss with my current employer was amazing. She reached a manager position maybe a decade before she planned to retire, and her goal was to get all of her people (who were interested) launched in their careers with our employer. Our position was entry-level but many people didn’t have this kind of help and stayed there for years or decades. Not her people. When she had your twice annual review, she would ask what you were interested in for the future; if you didn’t know (as I didn’t when I first started) she would come up with suggestions based on what she knew of your strengths.

Once you gave her something to work with, she would do everything in her power (including getting involved in upper-level politics that I never fully understood) to get you experience in that area. For example, someone told her that they wanted to get into training, and after that she had them help with training every month for the next several months (along with others, so we all got experience with it) so she could add that to her resume. By the time she retired, every employee she’d had more than a year or two (who wanted to move on; some people were close to retirement and this was just a job for them to coast through those last few years) had their careers launched and many of us are still working those positions she helped get us into.

10. The basement

Coworker had a daughter with significant physical and mental disabilities. Coworker’s spouse was the fulltime caregiver to the daughter but they passed away suddenly. Coworker’s extended family planned to temporarily move in to help care for daughter. CEO of the company and about 5 staff members spent a several days finishing coworker’s basement to accommodate the extended family members, company paid for the materials as well.

11. The calendar

A few years ago, I was dealing with an awful personal crisis that just kept spiraling. The new (bad) news tended to show up around the same time every week (think test results), and I was just a mess for the next hour or two. I started blocking the time on my calendar so I didn’t have to deal with anything.

I confided some of the details to one of my colleagues, who is also a friend. He started blocking off his own calendar in the same period, so if I needed to come into his office and cry, he’d be available. It made me feel so much less alone through it.

12. The bags

I was working the job from hell. But, I worked with some absolutely amazing people, some of which I’m still friends with to this day. My last year there my father’s cancer turned terminal. I lived at home with him and took care of him while working full-time. I also had to coordinate nurses and home care, and did a lot of his home care myself including changing diapers.

I found myself one day running low on plastic shopping bags. We were using them to dispose of the diapers. and where I live, if you go shopping you have to use reusable bags or at the time pay for plastic (now plastic is banned and you have to use reusable). I sent an email to my entire office saying if anyone had any spare bags I could steal from them, I would be incredibly grateful to have them.

The next day I came in and my desk was covered in bags. There had to be 500+ bags.

And then the nicest thing was one girl spent the evening crocheting a bag to store the plastic bags in for me and even checked around to see what my favorite color was and made it from that color wool. It was so pretty and absolutely so kind.

My father passed two months later, and it took me another couple of years to go through all of the plastic bags I received, but I still have that teal crocheted bag holder the one woman made for me. It was something so simple, but so thoughtful and so kind.

13. The bike

In my early 20s, I didn’t have a license and biked to get around, including to work. One night when riding home I crashed my bike and it ended up needed to be taken to a repair shop to get fixed. The amount to repair it was a significant amount of money for me at the time, and I was worried about being able to pay the bill.

While my bike was getting fixed, I walked to work or got rides from coworkers. One of them asked me where my bike was getting fixed up and I told them, thinking nothing of the conversation.

When I went to pick up my bike and pay the bill, I was informed that the bill had already been taken care of and that I could just take my bike home. I found out that the repair bill had been taken care of by a VP at my employer — not a guy that I was super close to but that had heard about my transportation troubles through the grapevine. It was such a a kind act, and one that I will always remember.

14. The ally

I started my current job in the middle of covid, and it was still such a weird time. I had also just gotten out of a domestic violence situation, and between those two things I had terrible anxiety, especially related to being around other people.

I met and became friends with one of the few other people who came into the office, the IT manager. He had been with the company for 10 years and had a reputation as the grouchiest grumpiest guy around. He had never attended a single office event in all those years because he just kind of hated everyone. But being often the only two people in the office, we got to know each other and got along just fine. I learned he had PTSD and it made it really hard for him to be in groups, too.

When my company started having in person events again, I was a wreck. Being in a group of people that I had barely met was unbearable, and my anxiety was through the roof.

Wouldn’t you know it but from that point on Mr. Grumpy came to every single office event and just quietly sat where I could see him or reach him if I was having a panic attack. He barely said a word but kept other people from bothering me, and worked through his own social anxiety just so I would know I had a friend behind me. He still does it, years later.

It might seem like a little thing but it means everything to me. It’s one of the deepest kindnesses anyone has ever shown me. I work hard to let him know how much I appreciate him!

15. The one from a horse

When I was a teenager, I worked at a horse farm, and there was a “mean” horse there who was known for biting people. Let’s call him Bitey (I forget his real name). He was easily spooked and had probably been mistreated; I never knew the whole story.

Since my job was to feed the horses, they all liked me, and Bitey would even let me pet him. Therefore, I was assigned to hold Bitey’s halter while the farrier (the horse foot doctor) tended to his feet. It was a hot summer day, and I didn’t know that standing with your knees locked can make you pass out. Sure enough I started to feel woozy, and then I passed out cold. I heard the farrier and his assistant yelling as I blacked out.

When I came to a few minutes later, they told me that the supposedly “mean” horse had caught me mid-faint with his head, and gently lowered me to the ground! What a sweetie. Horse people love stories like this, and it was all anyone talked about for days.

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