July 7, 2017
This is the very definition of a Friday story. The results of a research project, published in the American Psychological Association journal Emotion suggests that the small kindnesses we show to others at work tend to propagate across an organisation. For the study, a group of researchers from the University of California told workers at Coca Cola’s Madrid headquarters that they were taking part in a piece of research to measure their levels of happiness, job satisfaction, relationships with colleagues (good and bad) and their positive and negative experiences of other people’s behaviour as well as an assessment of their own behaviour over a period of four weeks.
Unbeknownst to the workers, all of the people in the workplace had been separated into three groups: Givers, Receivers and Controls. The Givers were instructed to do small favours – defined in the study as prosocial behaviour – for Receivers such as fetching them a drink or thanking them for their work. Controls were those people in the workplace who were assigned no status as a Giver or Receiver to provide a baseline for comparison.
Although the researchers concede that no account was taken for other working conditions during the study period, they concluded that the acts of kindness didn’t go unnoticed and, in fact tended to propagate across the organisation. “We found that Givers and Receivers mutually benefited in wellbeing in both the short-term (e.g., on weekly measures of competence and autonomy) and the long-term (e.g., Receivers became happier after 2 months, and Givers became less depressed and more satisfied with their lives and jobs). In addition, Givers’ prosocial acts inspired others to act: Receivers paid their acts of kindness forward with 278 percent more prosocial behaviors than Controls. Our results reveal that practicing everyday prosociality is both emotionally reinforcing and contagious (inspiring kindness and generating hedonic rewards in others) and that receiving everyday prosociality is an unequivocally positive experience (which may further reinforce Givers’ actions)”, they reported
The effects also seemed to be longlasting. One month after the study ended, the study Receivers were enjoying significantly higher levels of happiness than Controls.
Perhaps most tellingly, the Receivers also self-reported that they had started to do more favours for other people, around three times more than their colleagues in the Controls group. The study also concludes that the favours are about more than reciprocity, because the Receivers were doing favours for people other than the people in the Givers category. They were paying it forward, in other words.
The inescapable conclusion is that acts of kindness create a virtuous circle of behaviour within an organisation. So, it’s Friday and you know what to do.