At Work, Giving is the New Getting

iStock_000017306404XSmallBy Terry Selucky (Los Angeles)

What’s the best way to guarantee a healthy ROI?

Attract talent. Analyze and use data. Beef up social media. Cultivate compassion?

Though at first glance it may seem counter-intuitive, creating a workplace culture that encourages compassion and collaboration among co-workers — as opposed to cutthroat competition — is actually one of the most effective ways to boost business.


A recent article in The McKinsey Quarterly states that creating a giving culture at work not only reduces the stress level among employees, but also helps employees feel more loyal and committed. Emma Seppala, Associate Director for the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at the University of California, notes that seeing someone help another person creates a “heightened state of well-being” and when leaders demonstrate generosity in this way, workers are “more likely to act in a helpful and friendly way with other employees for no particular reason.”

Even if the warm fuzzies you get from being selfless aren’t enough, analyzing the bottom line pleads the case for workplace compassion. For example, Philip Podsakoff from Indiana University has demonstrated a direct correlation between the frequency with which employees come to each other’s aid and the company’s sales revenues. Collaboration promotes a customer-first atmosphere; work gets done faster, it enhances team cohesion and coordination, provides spontaneous training for new employees, and increases consistency in products or services.

The McKinsey piece, contributed by Adam Grant, author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, separates workplaces into three cultures: Givers, Takers, and Matchers. Though the monikers are self-explanatory, the findings are not: Matcher cultures trade favors in a closed loop, making them inefficient vehicles for exchange. Takers try to get as much as possible without giving in return, which does not benefit the whole. But Giver cultures encourage knowledge sharing among all employees and, in turn, best results and the most efficiency.

Fortunately for women (and perhaps, women-run businesses), they are natural “givers.” An article from Time shows that, in monetary giving at least, women are 40% more likely to donate than men, and at all income levels, they give more than their male counterparts. And, a recent article from The New York Times reveals that the mere presence of women makes everyone more generous — both in families and in the workplace.

How to Create a Sincere Giving Culture

Perhaps the most useful takeaway from Grant’s article is that women can leverage any natural tendency to be generous, for their own good. Of course, giving has never been about getting back, and to operate with a reward in mind would not only create unrealistic expectations, it would also be transparent.  Grant states in his article that many companies, including Berkshire Hathaway, have policies against hiring people who act like “takers” and those who “kiss up, kick down.” Yet a sincere interest in the greater good will have exponential benefits. Three simple ways women can give inside the workplace are:

Mentoring. Offer guidance and advice to a junior colleague. When you were entry-level, it’s likely you needed help from time to time. A helpful tip or a few words of acknowledgement will make junior employees grateful for the assistance and create lasting collaborative relationships.

Simple encouragement. Positive feedback doesn’t have to be limited to the younger set. Everyone can use a reminder that we’re working toward the same goal and contributing great work.

Lean in. Step up to participate in projects and offer knowledge when possible. Amidst all the controversy of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, one key idea has risen to become conventional wisdom: Being bold about your contribution has huge potential rewards. Volunteering your expertise will get you noticed.

Fair warning: Giving too much at the workplace can be counterproductive and even damaging. Employees must set healthy boundaries to ensure that they get their own work done while they’re helping others.

So next time you have the opportunity to give more of yourself at work, think of the personal and interpersonal benefits. Companies such as Google and Adobe are shifting more and more toward collaboration, which makes sense in a global, online environment where communication is key.

By following their cues, you’ll not only enjoy the heightened sense of self and others, you’ll be making yourself look professional and generous, setting an example, and boosting profits for your entire organization. The bottom line? Giving at work is a worthwhile investment with exponential returns to the bottom line.

1 Response

  1. Terrific distillation of how doing the right thing is, increasingly, the best approach to value creation. This is a fundamental change with lots of history giving it force…. Thanks for sharing and linking the benefits of doing the right thing, of ethical service in business, with applied management.