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What do we get from workplace relationships? The opportunity to give

Think about your best workplace relationship. What is this relationship like? What would life at work be like without this person?

My colleagues Joyce Bono, Ina Purvanova, and I recently asked people to tell us what they get out of their relationships at work. While we heard stories about the importance of getting help with work, career advice, or a listening ear, people also spoke passionately about the opportunity to give to others.

People were proud of their ability to help their coworkers achieve their career goals and honored when they were able to be there for coworkers during significant life events. One person told us about a coworker whose grandpa had died:

“. . . immediately another coworker and I decided that we were going to go to his grandpa’s funeral to be there for him. . . He was so grateful that we came. He came up and hugged us after the ceremony, and the look on his face meant more to me than anything in the world.”

Clearly, this was a moment when a relationship that started at work went far beyond that, when a true connection was formed. While giving to others can have personal costs, we heard more stories about the benefits of giving. In fact, in a follow-up study, we found that when people were able to give to others at work, they found their work more meaningful.

And so this week, when I was feeling the combined stress of a busy month and a harsh winter, I volunteered to help a group of coworkers spread some Valentine’s Day cheer in my organization. It was a small gesture that helped me build some connections – a gift to others that gave right back. How might giving to others make your day a little better?

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