Put yourself in the following situation: a friend you knew in college, but have lost touch with over the years, sends a message out of the blue. Beyond the standard pleasantries, they ask for a favor. A big favor, in fact. This acquaintance mentions they know you worked with a prominent analyst in the friend’s career field and are hoping you can introduce them to her.
Do you agree without hesitation, even though you only briefly worked with the analyst and don’t feel comfortable? Or do you flat out refuse because of the potential damage it could cause your working relationship? Or a third choice; you agree, but ask your acquaintance to do you a favor in return?
According to research by organizational psychologist and Wharton School of Business Professor of Management Adam Grant, how you respond falls into three different categories: givers, takers, and matchers. Grant surveyed more than 300,000 people and found that the majority of people fall in the matchers category, somewhere between givers and takers.Building an environment that cultivates a giver-mentality and protects givers from burnout is key to fostering generosity.Click To Tweet
While givers are the most generous of the three types, in the wrong working environment they’re quick to burn out and bring down productivity. On the other hand, takers burn bridges and often disrupt work environments with their selfishness and “me” mentality. Building an environment that cultivates a giver-mentality and protects givers from burnout is key to fostering generosity.
Takers, Givers, Matchers
Grant defines takers as individuals who go into an interaction attempting to get as much as possible from the other person as they can. Takers purposefully guard their time and resources as a means of control. Despite their desire to quickly rise to the top, takers rapidly cycle through resources and connections from their unwillingness to return favors.
Grant’s research found that despite their willingness to put others ahead of themselves, in the right environment givers make successful employees because of their natural generosity and desire to build genuine connections. Without a protective environment where their generosity is fostered and returned, givers become unproductive.
The third category, the matchers, tend to fall right in the middle and are proprietors of creating a just world. Grant notes that they will often go around and make sure givers get recognition where due, and that takers see justice when they take too much.
In the Harvard Business Review, Grant writes,
“A willingness to help others achieve their goals lies at the heart of effective collaboration, innovation, quality improvement, and service excellence. In workplaces where such behavior becomes the norm, the benefits multiply quickly.”
From that same HBR article, Grant notes research led by Nathan Podsakoff of the University of Arizona where 38 studies of organizational behavior, representing more than 3,500 business units and many different industries, were conducted. Podsakoff and his team found that “-the link between employee giving and desirable business outcomes was surprisingly robust. Higher rates of giving predicted higher unit profitability, productivity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction, along with lower costs and turnover rates.”
Most importantly, when employees act like givers, they work together and more efficiently solve problems by building a culture of support that appeals to customers and potential hires alike. On the other side of the coin, Grant warns of the dangers of enforcing policies that promote rigid individualism, especially in scenarios where competitive bonuses or advancement are at stake. When employees are judged on individual performances, they more likely to take on a “not my job” mentality and less likely to give their time and efforts to the team.
How to Find Middle Ground
Grant’s research findings uncovered that many employees who fall into the giver category are likely to underperform because of their concern for others’ well-being. Givers spend more time worrying about others and carrying out unreturned favors to the point that their work suffers.
In one particular example, Grant found that salespeople who reported the least amount of revenue generation had a particularly strong concern for others. Yet, when he looked at top performers, he saw the salespeople with the highest revenues also had unusually high scores on the desire to benefit others. These employees produced on average 50% more revenue than those less focused on helping others. In both cases, generosity appeared to drag down some employees while shooting others to the top.
Solving the puzzle of some givers succeeding over others creates a challenge for employers and those in management positions. Managers need to promote an environment of generosity without cutting into productivity and undermining fairness. Grant cautions that employers should also avoid creating situations where already-generous people give away too much of their attention while selfish coworkers feel they have even more license to take. In short, the environment needs to protect good people from being treated like doormats.
Grant notes that creating an environment where givers can succeed must involve targeting the takers in the organization. He suggests providing incentives for takers to collaborate and establishing repercussions when they refuse reasonable requests. More importantly, his research indicates that teaching givers to act on their generous impulses more productively and providing a more nuanced understanding of what generosity is and is not is essential to success.
At Personify, one of our core philosophies is “To whom much is given, much is expected.” We encourage a culture of giving in numerous ways, in particular with company-wide days of service and regular volunteer opportunities to give back to the local community. By partnering with different teams internally and showing employees these behaviors are encouraged and supported, we provide living proof that fostering a giver-mentality is part of Personify’s culture. We believe our efforts to give to the community pays in dividends internally.