Helping Others Makes Us Happier At Work, Research Finds

07/30/2013 12:06 pm ET
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Here's a good reason to help your coworkers with an upcoming project or presentation: Altruists in the office are more likely to be committed to their work and are less likely to quit their jobs, according to a new study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But beyond all that, researchers found perhaps the biggest benefit of office altruism: Those who help others are happier at work than those who don't prioritize helping others.

"More and more research illustrates the power of altruism," Donald Moynihan, a professor in the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the university, said in a statement. "Our findings make a simple but profound point about altruism: Helping others makes us happier. Altruism is not a form of martyrdom, but operates for many as part of a healthy psychological reward system."

The study looked to two large-scale longitudinal studies to make the connection between helping others at work and happiness. Researchers examined the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which surveyed 10,000 Wisconsin high school graduates from the class of 1957. They found that people who said in their mid-30s that helping others in their work was important were apt to report being more satisfied with their lives nearly three decades later.

Researchers also found a link between happiness and helping others at work in cross-national data from the General Social Survey, which includes data from 49 countries around the world.

"It's exciting that in both tests, our measures of altruism had relatively large effects on happiness," Moynihan said in the statement. "Being motivated to help and believing your work makes a difference is associated with greater happiness in our analysis."

A number of studies have also shed light on the value of friendship in the workplace, suggesting that strong social support can boost an employee's productivity and make him or her feel more passionate about their work (and less likely to quit!).

"Camaraderie is more than just having fun," University of Kentucky management professor Christine M. Riordan wrote in a Harvard Business Review blog, "We All Need Friends At Work". "It is also about creating a common sense of purpose and the mentality that we are in it together. Studies have shown that soldiers form strong bonds during missions in part because they believe in the purpose of the mission, rely on each other, and share the good and the bad as a team."

But the best part? Helping others may have a ripple effect that makes not only those who are performing the good acts happier, but may also boost happiness among other members of the community.

As psychology professor Dr. Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill tells PBS, “By creating chains of events that carry positive meaning for others, positive emotions can trigger upward spirals that transform communities into more cohesive, moral and harmonious social organizations.”

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