Does being generous at work pay?We have all met people who seem to be completely selfless and are always available if you need help. We also know people of the opposite type - those who you know to never ask for any favors.
So how do those personality traits play out in a work environment?
Unsurprisingly, there have been a number of researches trying to answer this exact question.
There are two aspects of being generous at work - how it affects you personally and how it affects your career.
"Our findings make a simple but profound point about altruism: helping others makes us happier. Altruism is not a form of martyrdom, but operates for many as part of a healthy psychological reward system," says professor Donald Moynihan, of UW-Madison's La Follette School of Public Affairs, an author of the study that tested the relationship between altruism in the workplace and happiness.
Does generosity help one’s career or hinder it? It can be both, Adam Grant notes in his book Give and Take. Grant is Wharton’s youngest full professor, who has consulted for clients that include Google, the NFL, Goldman Sachs, and the United Nations, and an extremely generous person himself. Grant’s studies show, among other findings, that many “givers” (employees who perform all sorts of selfless acts with no expectation of reciprocity) tend to linger at the bottom of the food chain, with low promotion and productivity rates. They fail to excel because they’re too busy helping other people do just that.
But though they’re overrepresented at the bottom, Grant’s most interesting finding is that givers also climb to the top. They construct valuable networks out of all the grateful colleagues who correctly perceive them as selfless and agenda-less. Givers share credit without demanding any in return, which spurs co-workers to flock to their projects. Their generosity earns them deep and lasting respect, which translates into potency. This article by Slate contributor Seth Stevenson summarises the difference between “losers” and “winners” among givers and provides more details about Grant’s study.
Generosity can be also a good for business, as Tesco’s retired CEO Terry Leahy told the New York Times:
“When I joined Tesco, somebody said to me, “They’ll eat you alive,” because it was known as a bit of a hard-charging place. That sort of brought out the street kid in me, and made me a little bit hard and combative. I had to learn later that there’s another way to get the best out of people, which is to really motivate them and make them feel good about themselves. So I changed. …. If I had to sum it up, it would be about being generous at work rather than selfish.”
A study of “100 Best Companies to Work for” showed that, while perks like free food and unlimited vacations are, of course, important, there is another “common denominator of employee satisfaction at these companies,” suggests Forbes’ contributor Ryan Scott: “the opportunity to be part of a company that places a premium on giving back. Most of the companies that made the list have a corporate philanthropy program that engages employees in some way and involves them in the process of connecting to their communities and the world at large.”
And then there is always the question: do companies provide generous perks out of pure altruism? Of course not, says this 2007 article from Wharton: Google “ wants to achieve several goals: Attract the best knowledge-workers it can in the intensely competitive environment for high achievers; help them work long hours by feeding them gourmet meals on-site and handling other time-consuming personal chores; show that they are valued; and have them remain Googlers, as employees are known, for many years.”
So, we see that generosity in the workplace, when done right, brings benefits not only to the subjects, but also to those who practice it.