Altruism in the Workplace: Get a Helper’s High and Boost Your Own Personality

By Nikita Singh┃Posted: January 07, 2019

Here comes another email asking for “JUST ten minutes of my time,” or “Could you please help with doing xyz? Thanks in advance.” How has this recurrence made you feel? In the moments when we’re pretty much in control of the to do list, this is absolutely fine. However, the moment we feel overwhelmed with a lot to do (which seems to be the new normal), this can be frustrating!

Of course, giving in each time can be dangerous, because we’re at risk of burnout. However, viewing these “ten minutes of help” through the lens of contribution and organizational citizenship, rather saying, “Oh no, I have to do this because I’m asked to,” can be one of the best gifts we give ourselves!

While we may agree with this cognitively, often the immediate feeling of having to go out of our way, with no explicit benefit for ourselves, isn’t a priority. However, if made a priority, this can be a huge win-win for both the person you’re helping and yourself!

Four reasons to be altruistic and give of yourself at work


1. It contributes to your well-being.

Helping others at work, or altruism, can contribute to one’s own well-being. Scientists call this the “helper’s high.” When we give and engage in acts of kindness, the “pleasure” and social attachment centers of the brain are activated. In fact, studies show that the “helper’s high” appears to act as an antidote to the stress response in the giver.

ALL research in positive psychology has found that those who have the mindset of ‘organizational citizenship’ – thereby helping others, or going the extra mile, always are much happier than those who don’t prioritize helping others!

However, the key here is to help without the expectation of reciprocity. You may think, “This is work, and not charity.” And yes, that’s true. We don’t have to spend ALL our time helping others. Having said that, sometimes going out of your way without the thought, “What will I get in return?” not only enhances your well-being, but also improves your relationships, and helps you feel balanced and centered.

Altruism gives us a sense of feeling connected to others, which is critical for health and well-being. It’s an empowering state of mind and heart. With this strengthened state of mind, producing quality work with high efficiency is nothing but a by-product.

2. It makes you feel self-assured at all times (and not insecure).

Helping others enriches the meaning and purpose of our own lives, showing us that our contributions matter and energizing us to work harder and smarter. This feeling of contribution, and being valued, can often help us accept and love ourselves to a much greater degree.

We all know how critical it is for employees and leaders to feel self-assured. Research shows that when we feel self-assured, we cultivate stronger relationships, and are open to collaborating with others, as well as accepting diverse opinions with an open mind. These behaviors of collaboration, listening, and openness to diversity are critical in today’s world. Perhaps, just a mindset of ‘contribution’ and ‘altruism’ can make all these benefits possible for us!

3. The ACT of ‘helping’ or ‘altruism’ can help you compensate for potential personality ‘watch-outs.’

The “Big Five” personality traits are very popular at the workplace, and with HR leaders. These include – openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism…we’re all predisposed to demonstrating these traits to some degree or another.

Cultivating the mindset and habit of helping others (or putting in discretionary effort) can help us navigate some of our individual watch-outs on the “Big Five.” For instance, those low on conscientiousness may follow the rules and/or get things done perfectly because the act of helping drives them. Or, someone inherently ‘low’ on openness may spend time listening to and appreciating another individual’s viewpoint, because helping and altruism motivate him or her!

Yes, this may sound strange or somewhat abstract. However, I’ve experienced how it works. I find myself adapting much quicker, and moving past some of my inherent ‘development areas’ only because I’m driven by a larger goal – to help someone and/or advance the organization.

Imagine how powerful it can be to know that one can go beyond his/her limitations, just by embracing altruism.

4. Finally, and most importantly: altruism is contagious, and can be ‘profitable’ for your organization.

The extra ten minutes you spend in a day going the extra mile, or helping selflessly, can actually serve as inspiration for others to do the same. Your mindset and actions can create a chain of ‘altruistic’ actions, and strong relationships, thereby creating a supportive, helpful culture in the organization.

Wouldn’t that seem like a dream – an organization where individuals are willing to help each other, and celebrate each other’s success? Not only would people enjoy working for such an organization, but it can also have a positive impact on productivity and other important business outcomes.

So, next time someone asks for that ‘extra help’ and you’re too caught up in yourself, pause, take a few deep breaths, and just try helping. You’re going to feel great, learn something new, develop a strong relationship, and feel self-confident. What more would anyone want?

This article was originally published on LinkedIn and is re-posted here with the author’s permission.

Nikita Singh, an organizational psychologist, a certified health & wellness coach and a leadership consultant, and the founder of The Human Prism, has worked internationally in diverse industries with a keen interest in holistic, individual development.