Early in my publishing career, I took the “assist” part of my editorial assistant job quite literally, and I would volunteer for nearly every task lobbed at my team by our publisher. After one meeting in which I offered to take on a particularly tedious project, a senior colleague stopped by my cube to offer advice. “You need to stop volunteering for things,” she urged. “You’ll burn out, and then you’ll regret offering to help so much.”
Now, I’m deep into my career, and I never did stop offering to help—and I don’t regret it at all. In fact, volunteering for both big tasks (offering to take over clients from an overwhelmed sales colleague) and small tasks (changing empty soap dispensers in bathrooms) has probably been the smartest thing I’ve done for my professional growth. While I feel a certain moral obligation to help my peers and a company that has consistently treated me well through the years, helping at work isn’t entirely an exercise in selfless giving.
Adam Grant’s excellent Atlantic article “How to Succeed Professionally by Helping Others” explores how helping at work benefits both the organization and the individual employee. Grant makes the point that while “givers” may not see immediate returns on their acts, they can often reap professional rewards in the long run.
“Givers tend to start out with lower sales revenue [because they] often put their customers’ needs above their own sales targets,” notes Grant. “Yet after a year in sales, the highest revenue belongs to those same generous people.”
The benefits of workplace helping extend beyond sales. When you help your colleagues, you reap an array of rewards:
An increased business IQ. The nuances of a business can be difficult to learn from a single professional vantage point. When you help a colleague, you learn more about her job, and your view of the business becomes fractionally bigger. When you tally up years of helping your peers, your understanding of your organization becomes incredibly rich.
Returned favors and increased trust. When you help a colleague on a project, he is more likely to lend a hand when you need it. He may be more likely to bring you in on bigger initiatives and projects. Your opportunities for professional growth increase when coworkers trust—and value—your assistance.
The warm fuzzies. Simply put, helping makes you feel good. Personally, I relish making someone’s life a little easier. I tend to absorb others’ emotional energy, and I find being around angry or frustrated people draining. On the other hand, satisfied and positive people give me an emotional boost. On a very primal level, when a colleague is facing a challenge, helping her means helping myself.
Of course, the desire to help shouldn’t be entirely selfish. But volunteering can provide benefits to both an organization and individual professionals, and a moment spent helping is rarely a moment wasted.