There’s a good chance you end up spending more time with your co-workers than your friends and family.
Unfortunately, sometimes familiarity breeds contempt. You cut the new guy some slack when he first started taking personal calls in your open-concept office, but now, it’s downright annoying.
So how do you make it through the day and not become a contemptuous jerk? According to a new study published in the journal Emotion, the key is to be nice to your co-workers (rather than merely tolerating them) while actively working to make their day more pleasant. The big personal perk? Doing so can make the work environment more enjoyable for you, too.
For one month, participants in the University of California study— 88 employees at the Madrid office of Coca Cola — filled out weekly surveys on their happiness levels, noting how often they had been on the receiving end of both kind and less-than kind gestures. They also recorded how often they’d been the one to demonstrate kindness or behave rudely.
Four weeks later, the participants completed another survey, this one more of a deep dive into their levels of happiness and job satisfaction.
Unbeknownst to rest of the group, 19 of the participants had a secret mission: they were chosen by the researchers to be “givers,” tasked with performing acts of kindness toward some of their co-workers each week.
Acts of kindness included delivering drinks to co-workers desks or emailing thank you notes. The researchers left it up to the givers to choose what to do from the list, so the group would feel a sense of autonomy. (The givers had to refrain from showing kindness to another group of co-workers who served as a control group. Sad!)
In the end, the random acts of workplace kindness were definitely noticed and made a big difference. The receivers observed more prosocial behaviors in the office and by the end of the study, they were reporting ten times more acts of kindness than the control group. They also reported feeling much more in control of their days at work.
One month after the study ended, the receivers were still riding high, enjoying significantly higher levels of happiness than the controls.
And when people were on the receiving end of kind acts, they also tended to “pay it forward” by doing something generous for a co-worker when the opportunity presented itself, according to Seth Margolis, the co-author of the study.
“Receivers started to perform more prosocial behaviors than normal, and they didn’t just give back to the givers, as a form of reciprocation,” he told HuffPost. “This shows that prosocial behavior can spark others to behave similarly.”
The givers acknowledged the same sense of autonomy as the receivers, and even felt a greater sense of competency at work. That’s obviously good news for co-workers and for companies, too.
“If this ‘pay it forward’ cycle continues, there can be benefits not just for their company but for workers’ own feelings of competence, autonomy, and happiness ― all things that are, presumably, very important to people.”
Indeed. Lesson learned? The next time Jason from the cubicle next door has a nasty, lingering cough, don’t roll your eyes. Be an office champ, pass him a cough drop and tell him to feel better.