A psychologist's reflections on mental health studies for inspiration and hope
Prosocial Motivation at Work Keeps You Happy and High-Performing, Research Shows
Prosocial Motivation at Work Keeps You Happy and High-Performing, Research Shows

Prosocial Motivation at Work Keeps You Happy and High-Performing, Research Shows

Prosocial behavior, as opposed to selfish behavior, benefits others and yourself at the same time, new research shows. Prosocial behavior has a prosocial motive, such as helping others or cooperating in relation to shared goals.

Whether people act prosocially or selfishly in a certain situations has been a topic of discussion possibly since the beginning of time. We know that acting prosocially is linked to positive outcomes at the individual level. But since the goal of prosocial behavior is to help others, this finding could be considered a pleasant side effect.

A 2022 meta-analysis of 201 studies involving 666 effect sizes (Liao et al., 2022) shows that, on average, prosocial motivation has a moderate association with prosocial behavior, a small-to-moderate association with well-being and job performance, and a small association with career success.

The authors use this definition of prosocial motivation:

The desire to benefit others or expend effort out of concern for others.

Also, prosocial motivation predicted all four outcomes beyond intelligence and personality traits. Think about this… Having prosocial motivation at work predicts your well-being and performance better than your intelligence and personality (even traits related to prosociality).

So, having prosocial motivation is different from having prosocial traits. Prosocial motivation is something that manifests itself in the context of the work setting and it changes over time in different contexts.

The authors mention that other meta-analyses have found positive associations between prosociality and well-being in non-work settings. I put the links to all of these studies in the last section of this article for your interest. It is studies of 26,000-178,000 participants that find positive associations between prosociality and well-being, even when the prosocial behavior involves personal sacrifices.

These findings show how important it is for people to work on something greater than themselves – to help others and to cooperate.

The authors state,

Unlike highly agreeable individuals who may focus on pleasing others and prioritize relationship goals at the cost of performance and career advacement goals, prosocially motivated employees are viewed as contributors at work and are rewarded with greater job performance and career advanements in organizations…

The authors add to this,

… It is important for individuals to understand when and why one’s “niceness” is perceived positively, e.g. focusing on benefiting others instead of pleasing others; focusing on achieving joint outcomes rather than prioritizing interpersonal relationships…

What can we take home from this? At the individual level, it is important that you commit yourself to shared goals and focus on your contributions in relation to others in your job. At the organizational level, it is important to engage employees in a prosocial work culture.

Other references on prosocial behavior and well-being:

  • Rewards of kindness? A meta-analysis of the link between prosociality and well-being? (Hui et al, 2020)
  • Communal motivation and well-being in interpersonal relationships: An integrative review oand meta-analysis (Le et al., 2018)
  • The link between sacrifice and relational and personal well-being: A meta-analysis (Righetti et al., 2020).

If anyone is interested in the numbers, you can see the correlations below (Liao et al., 2022):

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