In every workplace, there are three types of reciprocity styles characterising the interactions between people: givers, takers and matchers. Givers are those who always put others’ interests ahead of their own. They enjoy sharing knowledge and making connections without expecting anything in return. Takers, however, believe the world is a competitive place. They look out for themselves, tend to be calculating and self-protective, and always try to get as much from other people as possible. Most people are the third type – matchers, who operate on the principle of fairness and build relationships based on exchanges of favours. The question is, is it the most effective and productive way to live our lives?
Wharton business school professor Adam Grant surveyed over 30,000 people across different industries to find an answer. It turns out that the worst performers, unexpectedly, are usually the givers, probably because they are always so busy doing other peoples’ jobs. Nevertheless, they are also the best performers. Why is that?
Organisations have been showing great interest in fostering giving behaviour. A landmark meta-analysis led by Nathan Podsakoff from University of Arizona investigated 38 studies of organisational behaviour, representing 3611 work units across different industries. He found that the link between employee giving and desirable business outcomes was surprisingly robust. Higher rates of giving predicted higher unit productivity, efficiency, profitability, as well as customer satisfaction, along with reduced operating expenses and turnover rates. It seems that a givers culture can benefit in many ways to organisations. However, how can leaders promote generosity while avoiding creating situations where givers give way too much and selfish coworkers continue to take? How can we protect good people from burnout, and better position them to succeed?
The givers need to distinguish generosity from timidity, first of all. One way to overcome timidity is to shift their frames of reference and advocate for others. They also have to complement their empathy overload with perspective taking and set limits to their availability. To this end, leaders should encourage a culture of “help-seeking” and create an environment where givers feel safe to ask and receive help, too. One of the critical distinctions between self-sacrificing givers and successful ones is the willingness to seek help from others. Also, to build a culture of successful givers, it is important to be thoughtful about who you let onto your team. Effective hiring and team building is not about bringing in the givers, but more about recognising the takers and weeding them out.
“If you want it, go and give it.”
The way we define success in workplace needs to be changed. Instead of winning a competition, success is more about contribution. After all, the most meaningful and rewarding way to succeed would be helping others succeed. Don’t you agree?
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Cover image By McKinsey & Company