A bad attitude is contagious and, if left unchecked, can lead to a toxic working environment. If you change how you approach each day, you can help turn your company into a great place to work. It isn’t an employee’s responsibility to take care of their colleagues, but being a good co-worker can go a long way in fostering a positive workplace environment.
How to be a good co-worker
Closed-off cliques, damaging gossip, colleagues who don’t pull their weight, and low levels of morale and motivation – they all lead to high turnover and decreased small business productivity and performance. Ultimately, it’s up to the boss to create a happy workplace, but employees themselves can make a big difference by bringing energy, positivity and approachability to the office every day. Here are our top tips for being a good co-worker.
1. Start the day right.
Start the day right by saying hello to everyone you come across at the office. Wishing everybody a cheery “good morning” puts people in a good mood. It’s a little gesture that can make a massive difference in the moods of others and the office atmosphere as a whole. Small talk is important too. Ask someone how their family is and what they did last night. Taking an interest in a co-worker makes them feel valued even if your conversation is brief.
2. Spread positivity around the office.
Co-workers appreciate praise and approval from peers just as much as they do from management. Take the initiative and dish out the compliments. Don’t be offended if the gesture is not always returned.
Your praise can be either personal or professional. If someone keeps fixing the office photocopier or has finally managed to stop smoking, let them know how well they’ve done. Sending an anonymous thank-you note to one of your teammates is another fantastic option. Whatever you do, let people know how much you value their contributions. [Related article: How to Create a Happy and Productive Work Culture]
3. Ask others what they think.
Even the quietest among us want to feel present in the room. Make colleagues part of the decision-making process even on small issues like where everyone should go for lunch. Feeling seen is incredibly validating.
On work tasks, resist the urge to tell a co-worker how something is or what has to be done. They may have other ideas that could be better. Listen to them. This advice goes for everyone, from the top of the company to the bottom. Everyone should be listening to everyone else’s opinions. Take co-workers’ ideas seriously. You may disagree with them in the end, but they’ll appreciate the fact that they were heard.
“As CEO, it may be easy for me to order people around and tell them what they have to do, but I have always been a big proponent of listening to everyone,” said Robert Carter, CEO of Your Company Formations. “I’m still amazed even now by how much it brightens up someone’s day when they feel like someone else cares about what they have to say.”
4. Keep calm when things go wrong.
When things go wrong, keep a cool head. Try not to be too harsh on someone who temporarily loses their composure. They may be having trouble at home, or maybe a project they’re working on isn’t going to plan. To stay calm and collected, pretend your children (or parents) are in the room with you or that you’re in the middle of the street in a busy shopping district. How would you act then? This simple technique will prevent you from getting heated and losing your cool.
Did you know? In a Wildgoose survey, 3 in 5 respondents said that having a “work best friend” makes their job more enjoyable, and 12% said that they’re less likely to quit a job if they’re working alongside a good friend.
5. Do your own job well.
People who don’t do their job correctly or miss important deadlines contribute to a poor working environment, as do people who take credit for other people’s work. Make sure you’re not guilty of this yourself. Think about your own work performance and whether you could be doing better. Pull your weight and lead by example. You’ll find that this helps pull everyone else along with you. A rising tide lifts all boats.
6. Be considerate.
Don’t be consistently late to work. Wash your cups, cutlery and plates. Don’t leave a mess behind. Assume positive intent in all of your co-workers, and be sensitive to their personalities. If someone’s out of the office, offer to lighten their workload so they don’t encounter a mountain of tasks upon their return.
7. Be predictable.
If you’re honest at all times and straightforward in your communication, people will know where they stand with you. You’ll be a person who’s trusted because you’ve demonstrated that your word is truly your bond.
If you commit to doing something, do everything you can to meet your commitment fully and on time. If, despite your best efforts, you’re not going to be able to do so, let the people you promised know why. Be dependable and consistent with your co-workers. Take accountability for yourself at all times.
8. Be the go-to person.
Collaboration is the key to success at work. Share your ideas and your resources with co-workers. Make yourself available and be careful to reply to people’s calls and emails promptly. Everyone is under pressure to get the job done. Where you can, provide support to colleagues. This may mean something as simple as just listening and being patient with them. Be the worker who connects and networks with other teams to find an answer to something you and your team don’t know.
9. Be a cheerleader and a motivator.
Sometimes a positive word can make all the difference. Welcome new suggestions and ideas from your co-workers. Be the type of person people want to receive constructive feedback from, and make it clear that it goes both ways. If someone else thinks you could be doing something better or faster, you want to hear what they have to say.
10. Don’t gossip.
When employees from different backgrounds all work in the same place, conflict will inevitably arise at some point. Dealing with conflict properly creates tight-knit teams.
It’s critical to immediately put a stop to nasty gossip, which can be a form of workplace bullying. Don’t talk behind people’s backs. If someone tries to gossip with you, the worst thing you can do is continue the conversation. [Learn about the types of toxic employees.]
FYI: Workplace diversity and inclusion can make employees feel more comfortable in the office.
The benefits of being a good co-worker
When people enjoy being with you in the office, they’ll be more apt to want to work with you on projects. You and your co-workers won’t feel so alone when the pressure is on. Things get done faster and better. They learn from you and you learn from them. And, because you’re so quick to help, others will return the favor when you need it.
A warm working environment begets a motivated and productive workforce where you’re more likely to form genuine and meaningful friendships. Plus, being a positive force in the workplace is a great way to demonstrate your leadership ability. You may position yourself as the leading candidate for the next promotion.
Tip: If you’re in a leadership position, make empowering your staff a priority. Employees have more confidence to make independent decisions when they know they have proper support.
The downsides of being a bad co-worker
Team performance can be destroyed by one toxic co-worker. If you come to work in a bad mood, this affects your productivity and the quality of your work, as well as the work of those around you. You make it difficult for teammates to approach you by creating a negative atmosphere.
The mistrust and cynicism that dogs companies struggling with underperforming and missing targets will be partly your responsibility. You’ll underperform and need repeated training and motivation. At some point, your manager will have had enough and speak with their bosses about whether you really have a future at the company. An employment termination letter may then come your way.
Bottom Line: People management is vital at every level of a business, but just as important is how you and the people you work with conduct yourselves in the workplace. Positive attitudes are infectious, but negative attitudes are arguably more so.
Victoria Heckstall contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.