Small acts of kindness improve work relationships, study finds

There’s scientific proof that your tiny act of kindnesses aren’t going unnoticed. A new study in the journal Emotion found that when co-workers are nice to each other, it improves everyone’s attitude in the workplace.

University of California researchers recruited 88 workers at a Coca-Cola plant in Madrid, Spain, to participate in a happiness study for four weeks. Unknown to some of the participants, workers were being divided into receivers, givers and a control group. Givers were told to perform small but noticeable acts of kindnesses towards co-workers in the receivers group. The only qualification? Givers were told to not be obvious about it and brag about their good deeds.

Givers got to choose how they would show and express their generosity. The acts of kindnesses givers reported doing ranged from getting their co-workers coffee to making a co-worker feel appreciated by verbally encouraging them.

Those small good deeds added up and made people happier to work together.

Paying it forward works

The researchers’ hypothesis that “paying it forward” helps us all succeed was proven true. Givers got the most benefits. After two months, givers said they were more satisfied with their lives and jobs and reported fewer depressive symptoms. Receivers said they felt happier. Both groups also reported higher levels of competence and autonomy in the short-term and long-term.

Researchers suggested that the kindnesses helped receivers’ sense of belonging and ownership in the workplace: “Positive feedback could have increased Receivers’ sense that their choices were more meaningful and thus more reflective of their ‘true selves.'” When your co-worker is telling you that you are doing a good job, it helps you believe it too. If it happens in a public setting, it also signals your value to the organization, and that makes you feel appreciated.

Good deeds are also contagious, and spread beyond just the giver and receiver. After being the recipient of a good deed, receivers in the study would pay it forward to others in the company, creating cycles of generosity.

What this study shows is that taking time out of your busy work day to help a colleague may be a small sacrifice, but it’s not an insignificant one. In the long-run, we notice.