Givers and takers

Employees can decide whether to act like givers or takers.

  • When they act like givers, they contribute without looking for anything in turn, such as offering assistance, sharing knowledge, or making valuable introductions.
  • When they act as takers, they try to get other people to serve their ends while hoarding their expertise and time.

Studies found a strong link between employee giving and desirable business outcomes, such as higher profitability, productivity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction.

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Leaders recognise the importance of generous behaviour and desire more of it. But workers receive mixed messages about being generous. In promotion decisions, only one person advances. Productivity could also suffer. In competitive bonus pools, more money to the top performers means less for the rest. This leads employees to undercut rather than support their colleagues' efforts.

It creates a challenge of how to promote generosity without cutting into productivity and reducing fairness.

A challenge for managers is how to protect already-generous people from giving too much of their attention that could slow down their productivity and limiting selfish coworkers who feel they have a license to treat good people like doormats.

A solution involves helping givers act on their generous impulses more productively. Employees need a better understanding of what generosity is and learn to distinguish it from timidity, availability, and empathy.

Givers are often timid because acting in others' interest can make it difficult to assert your own.

Managers can help givers to separate timidity from generosity. They can teach givers to shift their frame of reference to advocate for others using relational accounts. Ask employees to think of others who share their interests and then make a verbal commitment to help that person. Being tough when representing other's interests will help their self-image as givers.

Givers are inclined to accommodate all the requests for help - neglecting their own responsibilities while being at the mercy of takers.

  • Instead of accommodating every request for help, givers need to set up boundaries. Set aside windows of quiet time during which you can focus on deep work.
  • Ask managers for support to help mentor juniors.
  • When dealing with takers, givers can help only if takers will pay it forward.

Empathy is a trap givers need to avoid. A busy person moved to empathy can spend too much time doing favours they cannot afford.

Managers can teach givers to be perspective takers, not just emphasisers. Instead of trying to imagine what other people are feeling, try to imagine what they are thinking and what their interests are. Givers should gather and use knowledge about other's interests and let a counterpart win on issues that matter less so they can win on issues they value most.

Givers can be categorised into groups. None of these behaviours is necessary for generosity.

  • Some are hesitant to advocate for their own interests.
  • Some are willing to drop everything to help anyone at any time
  • Some are easily manipulated by empathy.

Teaching employees about the power of agency, boundaries on accessibility, and perspective-taking will:

  • save your best employees,
  • enable employees to contribute more to others and the success of the company,
  • create a culture of generosity that will attract more givers to your organisation.

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