Five minute favours that can transform a working culture

Marielena Sabatier discusses how trust and employee engagement can be built if companies encourage generosity and kindness between colleagues

Stephen M. R. Covey, the author of ‘The Speed of Trust’[i]  says that when trust in a company is low, it places a hidden “tax” on every transaction – every communication, every interaction, every strategy, every decision is taxed, bringing speed down and sending costs up. He says that significant distrust doubles the cost of doing business and triples the time it takes to get things done.

Increasingly, jobseekers are also voting with their feet too – choosing to work companies with a strong employer brand, a good reputation and values. According to research by the Guardian,[ii] two thirds of new graduates want to work for an ethical company.

Trust can only be built from within and from the top down and one way that business leaders can do this is to promote a spirit of generosity within the business – encouraging everyone to be kinder to their colleagues and more focused on keeping customers happy.

The spirit of generosity

The power of kindness and showing empathy to others at work shouldn’t be underestimated. Whilst society conditions people to think that nice people always finish last, being nice and generous at work can bring surprising results.

Surveys on engagement and happiness at work indicate that happy people perform better.

Jessica Pryce-Jones, UK entrepreneur and author of the book[iii], ‘Happiness at Work: Maximizing Your Psychological Capital for Success’ claims that happy people are almost twice as productive as their colleagues, they take less sick days and enjoy their jobs more. They are also likely to earn more and be promoted more quickly. 

Kindness can also increase happiness at work. According to several pieces of research in the UK and the USA, the act of giving to others without any strings attached can have a profound effect on happiness too.

In 2010, the Journal of Social Psychology[iv]  did a survey measuring life satisfaction. They assigned 86 participants to three different groups. One group was instructed to perform a daily act of kindness for the next 10 days. Another group was also told to do something new each day over those 10 days. A third group received no instructions. After 10 days, the participants completed the life satisfaction survey again.

The groups that practiced kindness and engaged in novel acts both experienced a significant—and roughly equal—boost in happiness; the third group didn’t get any happier.

The findings suggest that performing good deeds can make people feel good—even when performed over as little as 10 days—and there may be particular benefits to varying our acts of kindness, as novelty seems linked to happiness as well.

How can business leaders apply these ideas at work and what impact could they have?

Five Minute Favours

Adam Grant, professor of management at Wharton University in the USA explains in his bestselling book[v] ‘Give and Take – a revolutionary approach to success.’ how simple acts or ‘Five minute favours’ can be life changing.

Grant says these ‘favours’ can be performed daily because they only take up small chunks of time.

Five minute favour ideas include sharing knowledge with colleagues, taking time to mentor someone when you are busy or introducing two people who will benefit in some way from meeting or networking with each other. 

Grant became fascinated with the importance of giving following his experience as a new entrepreneur when he found that many people helped him without expecting anything in return. After working in Silicon Valley for a few years, he realised the practice of helping strangers was widespread and was essentially helping to fuel the growth of many start-ups.

He saw how the act of ‘giving back’ was helping companies find the right teams and get really good advice and feedback on new products.

Leading by example

By encouraging a culture of giving and kindness, CEOs can help improve morale and the best thing is it doesn’t cost anything. It can however, make a big change to how people feel about work, their colleagues and their happiness.

If encouragement comes from the top and CEOs lead by example it can be a sustainable way for many corporates to rebuild trust and repair their reputations.

Here are some simple ideas for five minute favours that could spread a little happiness at work or even change someone’s life:

  • Being a good reference for a colleague or a supplier on Linked In
  • Reviewing a product and proving helpful and concise feedback they can use
  • Sending an email thanking someone for a job well done and ensuring that people are copied in on it
  • Don’t copy everyone in on emails, especially if the subject matter is sensitive or negative to someone
  • Share, comment or retweet information given by a colleague or supplier
  • Being a mentor for someone
  • Remembering to thank people at all levels in a company
  • Take time to speak to people at all levels from the cleaner to the CEO
  • Remember people’s birthdays in your close team and leaving a card on their desk
  • Doing some free work for a client but then asking them to ‘pay it forward’ and do it for someone else
  • Leave a chocolate or lottery ticket on someone’s desk anonymously
  • Smile and make others smile it could make someone’s day and it costs nothing


[i] Stephen Covey – The Speed of Trust –






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