Shawn Achor had a great blog post on Harvard Business Review last week called “What Giving Gets You at the Office.”  Two decades of research, Achor says, prove that the level of social support you receive in your work directly correlates to your level of engagement and job satisfaction.  But recently he learned something by asking the question in a new way; the correlation is even higher if you are a provider of social support than it is when you’re on the receiving end.  In other words, what goes around comes around.

I like this.  I spent hours this morning thinking back through all my work experiences and categorizing them, and sure enough, all my most fulfilling experiences were in organizations where I felt secure and accepted enough to focus on supporting and helping my colleagues.  There’s a chicken-and-egg dilemma for me though: I only felt like I could be a supporter of my co-workers if I felt that I had their support too.  In low-trust environments, I was too focused on watching my back.

So where does it start?  What has to happen first?  Like most things I think it comes back to senior leadership.  They must create that supportive culture first, and if they don’t, it will be tough for even the most altruistic-minded worker to focus on helping colleagues.  Where the right leadership is missing you have a classic “CYA” culture, where everyone is focused on defending themselves.  This is something I’m seeing a lot of in federal agencies right now, no doubt because the public is so focused on fixing blame for the problems with our economy.

But I also have to say something that I always tell team building participants.  Don’t get stuck in never-ending vicious circle of “I’ll do it if someone else does first.”  Take the first step to change your workplace culture and show your colleagues some support.  If you always wait for someone else to make the first move, everyone will just keep standing still.

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