How ‘Paying It Forward’ at Work Helps Your Team

paying it forward

We are all familiar with the concept of ‘paying it forward’. The concept is based on generosity being extended to others rather than the original benefactor. Researchers have found that the phenomenon of acts of kindness spreading is real. It is not just a movie about a goodwill movement.

Research shows that if we have been the recipients of a good deed, when given the chance we do pay it forward to others.

Kindness at work

Joseph Chancellor and his team studied how prosocial behavior impacted the organization as well as the individual employees. A small number of employees were selected to engage in acts of kindness towards their colleagues and coworkers.

These employees who were chosen as benefactors were asked to perform generous acts weekly. The employees chose to initiate the ‘paying it forward’ movement were free to choose in which ways they showed kindness. The employees of the organization were assessed on their levels of happiness. There was also a control group of employees who were excluded from the prosocial behaviors.

Chancellor found that the acts of kindness had an impact on the employees who were the recipients. At the end of the study prosocial behaviours had increased ten fold in the organisation. 

Also, the recipients of the acts of kindness continued to feel happier a month after the study had ended compared to the control group. The control group had been excluded from the act of kindness.

Prosocial behavior can be protective during stressful times

Interestingly – and unintentionally – work conditions in the organization got harder during the period of the study for all employees. The control group experienced a decline in how autonomous or in control they felt over their days at work. The group that received benevolent acts, on the other hand, maintained their sense of autonomy at work. Hence, the ‘pay it forward’ effect helped employees maintain a sense of control they had over their work when work got challenging.

Your takeaways from this study

The study shows that being kind and helpful pays off. No matter how busy we are, receiving an act of kindness, does not leave us frustrated that we now have to be nice back to someone. Instead, it maintains our sense of control over our working day and has a positive impact our happiness.

If you are managing a team going through a tough time, there are ways in which you can help protect employee wellbeing as well as cultivate a positive culture at work. Here are a few suggestions on how to cultivate the ‘paying it forward’ effect.

  1. Be a leader. Lead the way and initiate prosocial behaviours in your team. It is your team. Do not wait for someone else to get the pay it forward effect going.
  2. Be consistent. You may need to set reminders for yourself and make sure you are being kind to all of your team members equally.
  3. Plan ahead. Think of ways in which you can be prosocial without overdoing it or causing yourself extra stress. However, be mindful about the act of kindness not becoming mechanical. Allow the kindless to flow from your heart.

Observe the impact of your prosocial behaviours. Do you see acts of kindness increasing? Are you the recipient of any? Are there any changes on how your team copes with work stress? How is the overall happiness of each individual employee?

This is not a magic solution to an unreasonable work environment. However, during times of high stress, it may help your team manage a little better. they may even enjoy their day at work a little bit more.

Matleena Vanhanen is a licensed Counselling Psychologist with over 20 years of experience working in Europe and the Middle East. She has a practice of couples and individual therapy at the MapleTree Center in Dubai.

Articles on www.aureliapsychology.com may feature the advice of a licensed expert or other non-clinicians and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment from a trained professional. In an emergency, please seek help from your local medical or law enforcement services.

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