How to Be a Better Co-worker

Fallen out of love with your job? You’re not alone. Here’s how to reclaim a sense of fulfilment while becoming a happier, better co-worker.

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Happy co-workers are productive co-workers

For many people, work is drudgery and little more than a means to a paycheque. However, in recent years, a number of companies have become aware of the perks of positivity in the workplace-and the fact that it can benefit employees and employers alike. 

A study published by the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, in 2015 found compelling evidence that happiness increases productivity. Researchers showed some participants a 10-minute comedy clip and gave others free snacks and water before asking both sets to do a series of calculations in a predetermined amount of time. On average, those subjects were 12 per cent more productive than members of a control group who were given no incentives whatsoever. 

"The real force behind the rise in productivity is boosted effort," says Daniel Sgroi, a co-author of the study. "Happier people put in more effort." 

Google is often cited as a company that understands that equation. The California-based technology giant has invested heavily in the mental well-being of its employees, offering everything from free refreshments to on-site gyms to flexible hours. Workers are even encouraged to pursue side projects on company time. Alas, we can't all join the Google team, but evidence suggests employees themselves can create a more hospitable and effective workplace. 

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Make meaningful connections with your co-workers

The two biggest determinants of happiness in the workplace are feeling a sense of purpose and having positive relationships with your colleagues, says Emma Seppälä, science director of Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education in California and author of the new book The Happiness Track. 

Seppälä says that whatever line of work you're in, happiness comes from the belief that what you're doing is meaningful and beneficial to someone. Praising colleagues on a job well done, for instance, shows that someone is taking note of their contributions, which can help reinforce how crucial they are to the overall operation. 

Another approach is to motivate those around you. If you're an especially gifted graphic designer, for instance, the quality of your work alone may spur colleagues to push themselves. But there's another way to encourage others, Seppälä says: help them try to attain that level of expertise by offering technical tips or sharing your philosophy on how to approach a given project. 

You can also try emphasizing the importance of the work by finding clear ways to illustrate how it's making a difference in the wider world-such as locating an actual beneficiary. In 2007, Adam Grant, a management professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, released a study that followed university call-centre representatives tasked with cold-calling potential donors to raise funds. Grant put a group of those workers in touch with a student who had received financial aid and who explained what that support had meant to him personally. 

"All of a sudden, they were able to see the impact of what they were doing, the way they were changing lives," says Seppälä, reflecting on the study. As a result, that particular group became more persuasive in convincing people to donate, which led to a significant increase in the funds raised by each caller-from an average of US$185 a week to more than $500. 

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Create a collegial community with your co-workers

Inspiration is important, but so is cultivating a supportive culture. And that starts with thinking of colleagues as friends rather than rivals who are only out to score points with the boss or land a plum promotion, says Seppälä. Avoid publicly blaming co-workers for shoddy work, which could promote feelings of shame and ill will. In general, people are not trying to make mistakes and can learn from their gaffes. 

You can also improve the environment by showing compassion to people who are unmotivated, moody or uncooperative because of low self-esteem or some hardship in their private lives. "Understanding why others are feeling disgruntled should always be the starting point," says Vanessa Buote, director of research at Plasticity Labs in Waterloo, Ont., which studies workplace happiness. 

Express empathy by inquiring, in a kind, non-threatening way, about whether your co-worker is wrestling with personal issues. Don't feel like you have to provide answers; simply listening to someone air their frustrations can be cathartic and can often encourage them to identify their own solutions, Buote says. 

And sometimes, the simplest efforts to stoke camaraderie can be the most effective ones. For instance, social rituals, such as a daily tea time, can go a long way. "You might be surprised at the benefits of these small actions," says Buote. "They provide an opportunity for us to feel refreshed and, at the same time, can build a sense of community within an organization."

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