How Nice Guys Win the Long Game in the Workplace

Are you feeling a little taken advantage of at work lately? Well if you are – congratulations! This most likely means you are of the type that is open to helping out at work and offers to take on tasks that are outside what you were hired to do. If this is the case, you are on the right track to becoming a prized employee within your company or outside of your company, if one day you wish to step out to expand your horizons. A case in point for taking the “giver’s” path to success is Kat Cole, as her helpful way led her to become the president of Cinnabon. A recent article in The Atlantic traced Ms. Cole’s inspiring career trek from when she began working in retail at 15 and two years later added a second job as a hostess in a restaurant. She would move up the ranks of restaurant work to waitress and jump into the roles of cook and management when these vacancies needed to be filled. Kat Cole became president of Cinnabon when she was 32. Three years later and still at the helm she helped her company reach $1Bil in global branded sales in 2013. Her success wasn’t an overnight success; it was won with work, fortitude and patience. That is the kind of success that has staying power.

Cooperation amongst the workers in the workplace yields a productive workforce and ergo benefits a company’s performance. Renowned consultant, Yves Morieux is a senior partner in BCG’s Washington D.C. office and director of the BCG Institute for Organization; his Ted Talk following numbers over a million. In his article on fostering cooperation in the workplace for The Harvard Business Review, he states, “Voluntary frontline cooperation breeds creative, customized solutions to problems. … Problems are solved entirely by leveraging, through cooperation, the skills and ingenuity of employees.”

Those who are more helpful have a higher sense of satisfaction from their work and their good attitude tends to be contagious to their coworkers. Research supports the ‘giving promotes learning’ scenario. Rutgers professor Neha Shah conducted a study of employees at a large consulting and found that the highest performers were those who provided the most help to colleagues in solving task-related problems. This somewhat proves the adage: “If you need something done, have a busy person do it.” Helpfulness also shows initiative and other aspects of good leadership.

However, there is a caution to offering help. It is necessary to watch that generosity in this area is noticed and is not taken for granted. This is a tricky balance as usually a ‘giver’ isn’t the type to toot their own horn. Women, in particular, should be warned. The willingness to offer assistance to colleagues boosted performance evaluations and rewards for men, but this was not so for women (according to results from a series of studies by NYU psychologists Madeline Heilman and Julie Chen). Women are often seen as ‘wanting to help’ so when they help out there is less of a motivation to remember or reciprocate this help. Whereas when a man does someone a favor the recipient is left feeling they owe him one. This particular discrepancy between the sexes was recorded by Joyce Fletcher, an authority on leadership and the interaction of gender and power in the workplace and a professor at Simmons College. As good as it is to be a giver, male or female, the givers need to find ways to subtly call attention to their good deeds and not go over the edge to self sacrifice.

All in all, it could be said that the helpful worker follows a scenic route to career progress. In Give and Take the best seller named one of the best books of 2013 by Amazon, Apple, the Financial Times, and the Wall Street Journal, the author, Adam Grant shows case after case how “helping others can be inefficient in the short run but surprisingly productive in the long run”. He points to relationships and motivation being essential principles for the long term success of givers. He says, “From a relationship perspective, givers build deeper and broader connections. … From a motivation perspective, helping others enriches the meaning and purpose of our own lives, showing us that our contributions matter and energizing us to work harder, longer, and smarter.”