When a wide range of people are thrown into a work environment for eight hours or more in a day, personality clashes are bound to happen. Work habits, personal ticks—these may be minor annoyances, but over time, they can become the groundwork for exasperation and resentment. And what of the more consequential issues? Jealousy, perceived slights, or preferential treatment—these can lead to feelings of aggression, acts of hostility, and a toxic work environment. And when work life is toxic, that usually doesn’t stay contained to the hours of operation. When most people are miserable at work, that feeling spills over into their home lives as well.
Generally, the more time spent with people, the easier it is to become aggravated by otherwise-inconsequential behaviors. And once you go down the road of contempt, it becomes difficult to create a sense of peace throughout the day. And many studies have shown that a work environment filled with tension, passive aggression, or hostility has a direct negative impact on productivity.
I have previously spoken about the power of kindness and how it benefits the bestower of the kindness as much as it does the recipient. There is a form of empowerment that comes from practicing acts of generosity, no matter how small the act. Engaging in acts of kindness can improve the perception of the world as a kinder and friendlier place, making the surrounding environment tolerable (if not fully harmonious) as well as more navigable.
Recently, researchers from the University of California tested the benefits of kindness in the workplace. Ten workers at a company were selected to practice some act of kindness toward their coworkers, ranging from offering a compliment, bringing them a drink at their work space, or even something as small as saying thank you. There was also a control group who would not be recipients of any of the acts of kindness.
The results overwhelmingly showed that deliberate acts of kindness and generosity increased overall prosocial behaviors throughout the workplace, and workers reported higher levels of autonomy, feeling greater control of their own lives during the workday, and at rates ten times higher than the control group. Additionally, there was a total increase of happiness that lasted for a month after the study commenced.
What’s more, the kindness had a domino effect, and the recipients “paid forward” the kindness to other coworkers. The feelings of goodwill spread throughout the organization, and the rates of acts of kindness as well as overall happiness improved by large margins.
The takeaway is that Americans are spending most of our time at work, meaning that we are sharing the majority of our lives with our coworkers. While in the moment it might feel satisfying to vent frustrations about coworkers, either behind their backs or to them directly, or it may seem tempting to engage in a war of passive aggressive attrition with an annoying coworker, time and energy is much more effectively and efficiently spent suppressing the urges of negativity in favor of a more generous approach. You’ll be grateful you did in the long run, and so will your coworkers.