In Culture

When you hear the term “contagion,” what image comes to mind? Disease. Panic in mass crowds. Viral social media trends. Perhaps this time of year, you think of the flu or the Tide Pod Challenge.

Scientists have found that within groups, thoughts and moods can be just as contagious as physical diseases or behaviors. In a phenomenon called emotional contagion, researchers have observed that “individuals tend to express and feel emotions that are similar to those of others.”

Emotional contagion exists in the workplace as it does in any group. In Psychology Today, Sigal Barsade reports, “emotions, both positive and negative, actually spread among your employees like viruses. People routinely “catch” each other’s feelings when working together in groups. It’s not surprising that this influences your employees’ moods: what’s more surprising is that it significantly influences their judgment and business decisions as well. Usually without anyone having a clue what’s going on.”

The word “contagion” often carries a negative connotation, but research on the benefits of emotional contagion has shown that this ripple effect may be a secret workplace weapon for productivity and engagement.

How can we kick off a positive upward spiral in our workplace? What positive contagions should we encourage at our jobs?

I’ve worked with networks and encouraging generosity at work for many years, and I’d suggest we start there. Let the spirit of giving spread instead of the flu!

Why should we give?

  1. Giving makes you happy– There have been countless studies that suggest helping others improves the helper’s own mood as much, if not more, than the recipient of the help. A study at University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that altruism in the workplace had relatively large effects on happiness. Of this research, Professor Donald Moynihan says: “Our findings make a simple but profound point about altruism: helping others makes us happier. Altruism is not a form of martyrdom, but operates for many as part of a healthy psychological reward system.
  2. Giving increases gratitude– Doing favors for others gives people the opportunity to express gratitude, which in itself is a positive emotion that can improve an individual’s health and well-being. In a study evaluating interventions for lasting happiness, founder of positive psychology Martin Seligman found that a daily gratitude practice was one of only two ways participants were able to increase happiness and decrease depressive symptoms over the long-term.
  3. Giving inspires more giving– Paying it forward pays off. Contagion researchers James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis found that one person’s initial generosity can spark a chain reaction of benevolence up to three times as large as the original contribution. The single act can begin what social scientists call a “virtuous circle,” where one person’s generous behavior triggers another’s and so on. People are grateful for help received and are motivated to pay it forward according to research by Dr. Wayne Baker and Nathaniel Bulkley.

Read more about the health benefits of giving here.

The positive emotion generated through giving and receiving spreads through groups by way of emotional contagion and ripples through the entire organization.

Research on groups experiencing positive emotional contagion found that more than good feelings spread- these groups experienced:

  • Less interpersonal conflict
  • More successful cooperation
  • Perceptions of better performance on a task when compared to a control group.

When we give, the benefits are amplified and multiplied, as the positive emotions created by giving and expressing gratitude spread from one person to another. Even if we don’t give, we reap the benefits by being around people who are. For example, Barbara Fredrickson reports that people who merely witness or hear about a helpful interchange may experience positive emotions as well.

Givitas gives employees a chance to express gratitude, thanking responders and sharing moments of generosity throughout their network. Even the smallest acts of kindness can ignite a contagion of hope, goodwill, and positive emotion. A five-minute favor could be the start of a positive upward spiral within your work group

So let’s get contagious this week! Schedule a demo if you’d like to learn more about how Givitas can help drive positive emotional contagion at your workplace.

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