5 Smart (and Totally Selfish) Reasons to Help Your Coworkers

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April 21, 2024 at 11:26AM UTC
Why should you help your coworkers? It’s not just the right thing to do. Lending a hand to your teammates might also boost your career.
At first glance, it might seem as though the time you spend helping your coworkers is time lost. But, in fact, you receive many rewards in return when you invest in assisting someone else.
Focusing your attention outside of yourself doesn’t just benefit others. It works to your benefit, too. Some of the advantages show up right away, while others come back to you in the long run. This is true whether you help your coworkers, your clients, your managers, or even the world at large.

I, Me, My, Mine

Take a second to step back and examine your normal thought processes. If you’re like most people, the majority of your thoughts tend to start the same way — with yourself. I am so tired of working with him. Why isn’t she listening to me? He’s ignoring my ideas again. This project is mine; why is she always trying to interfere?  
As George Harrison wrote in the song “I Me Mine” on The Beatles album Let It Be, “All through the day I me mine, I me mine, I me mine…” And, not much has changed since the song was released, almost 50 years ago, in 1970. Harrison’s message still rings true. Most people are way too consumed with thoughts of themselves. Not only does this preoccupation cause problems in the world, it also tends to make people pretty unhappy.
There’s reason to believe Harrison may have written the tune to remind his own coworkers, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, to be less selfish. But, he was also speaking to the world at large, reminding all of us of how interconnected we are. The song is a commentary on both the dangers of self-focus and the virtues associated with living in a more inclusive and generous way.
“‘I Me Mine’ is the ego problem. There are two ‘I’s: the little ‘i’ when people say ‘I am this’; and the big ‘I’ – is duality and ego. There is nothing that isn’t part of the complete whole. When the little ‘i’ merges into the big ‘I’ then you are really smiling!” – George Harrison
We're all connected
It’s nearly impossible to be happy at home when everyone you live with is miserable, right? Well, the same goes for work. When the people you work with are unhappy, it can have a major impact on your own experience.
The truth is that no one is an island. Everyone is connected in so many ways. When you focus on trying to help others to feel happy, you’re actually helping yourself to get there, too. The effect is even stronger when you channel your energy into trying to make your office, your industry, or even the whole world better, rather than just trying to improve your own life and circumstances.
“Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. You need to take up the challenges that we face as a nation and make them your own. Not because you have a debt to those who have helped you get here, although you do have that debt. Not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate than you, although I do think you have that obligation. It’s primarily because you have an obligation to yourself. Because individual salvation has always depended on collective salvation. Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential.” – Barack Obama
When you help your coworkers, you're also helping yourself
“Looking out for number one” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Here are some key reasons why focusing on others a little more, and yourself a little less, will help your career:

1. You'll be happier. 

Shifting your focus outside of yourself can help you to be happier. Having a sense of purpose helps you to feel content. You’ve heard the expression, “it’s better to give than to receive.” It’s really true. Doing something for yourself might make you happy for a brief period, but helping others brings a deeper kind of joy.
There’s a Chinese proverb that goes, “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.” The positive feelings you generate from being of service to someone else are more far-reaching than the actions you take that benefit you and you alone. And, the happiness you receive as a result of monetary gain don’t last, as this saying suggests. Soon enough, you’ll be wanting more in order to feel that boost.
Now, scientific data backs up these statements. Researchers have found that practicing kindness generates significant increases in happiness. For example, college students who did five acts of kindness in one day noted that they felt happier as a result.
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2. It gives you a feeling of noble purpose.

It’s so easy to get carried away by negative thinking, especially when you’re focusing on yourself a lot. However, when you take a broader perspective, things begin to change. When you plan your life, and your day, around trying to make the people around you happier and the world a better place, you feel different.
There’s a nobility that comes with this sense of purpose. You’re no longer driven solely by thoughts of yourself. Focusing on others can help to provide you with a feeling of confidence and honor that’s quite satisfying.
Founding father Benjamin Franklin believed in gearing his day around helping others. According to Franklin’s daily schedule, he asked himself each morning, “What good shall I do today?” And, at the end of the day, he pondered, “What good have I done today?” This altruistic focus, and the innovations it generated, is a big part of what makes Franklin such a beloved figure even today.

3. Your business will improve.

Imagine how much better your workplace would function if everyone helped each other. How much more efficient would everyone be? How much more could you accomplish in a day? Being willing to help your coworkers, rather than compete with them, is potentially great for business.
But, the benefits extend when you also focus on helping your clients and seeing the world through their eyes. To make a product or provide a service that everyone wants to pay for, you can’t just focus on making money.
“What is Apple, after all? Apple is about people who think ‘outside the box,’ people who want to use computers to help them change the world, to help create things that make a difference, and not just get a job done.” – Steve Jobs

4. It's good for your reputation. 

Your relationships with your coworkers, and others, are certain to improve when you start to focus more on being a benefit to others. Working with negative or otherwise difficult coworkers isn’t a whole lot of fun. But, being around people who want to sincerely connect and work and learn together is entirely different.
Shifting your focus outside of yourself will help you to be a better listener. You’ll engage with your coworkers, and your clients, more sincerely and wholeheartedly when you adopt a more altruistic approach. Therefore, you’ll forge stronger relationships. This comes with so many benefits, both professionally and personally. You’ll feel happier, for one. (Having friends at work is associated with some pretty fantastic rewards.) And, you’ll also gain practical advantages, like a wider professional network.

5. You'll feel more fulfilled. 

“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.” – Dalai Lama
Money is important, yes, but it certainly isn’t everything. If you really want to be fulfilled, you have to tap into something bigger than yourself. Chasing money or power doesn’t work in the end. No matter how much you gain, you’ll always crave more. You’ll have to work harder and harder the higher you climb up the ladder, leaving you less time for the things in life that truly bring contentment.
Having strong, positive relationships both in and out of work will help you to feel more fulfilled. And, working toward helping others, rather than just focusing on yourself, is a great way to work toward that end. Also, doing work that has meaning brings a sense of fulfillment. When your “why,” your sense of purpose, extends beyond yourself, you feel more connected and invested. This brings true joy and fulfillment in a way that chasing money, and your own self-interests, simply never can.

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This story originally appeared on PayScale

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