We all know the old saw, ‘It’s better to give than to receive,” or as Mark Twain famously quipped, “It is better to give than receive- especially advice.” This charitable stance may be laudable in our private lives, but does it have a role in the workplace? Absolutely, asserts Adam Grant, professor of organizational psychology at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
An accomplished scholar (he is Wharton’s youngest-tenured and highest-rated professor), Grant is also a giver of epic proportions, working six days a week (including evenings) and generously sharing his time and knowledge with colleagues and students alike. In short, Professor Grant is someone who rarely says ‘No,’ and it turns out, this attitude serves him well. When we focus on what our actions mean for others, rather than for ourselves, Grant has found, good things happen.
Givers, Matchers & Takers
The common assumption is that people work hard in exchange for things they want: higher salaries, bonuses, time off, prizes, etc. Surprisingly, however, studies by Grant and others indicate that this is not typically the case. Indeed, researchers have found compelling evidence that money does not buy engagement. Instead, it turns out that prosocial motivation, which Grant defines as “the desire to help others, independent of easily foreseeable payback,” is a much more powerful stimulus. And the benefits of giving don’t stop there. As Susan Dominus reported in her recent New York Times Magazine profile of Grant, “helping is not the enemy of productivity, a time-sapping diversion from the actual work at hand; it is the mother lode, the motivator that spurs increased productivity and creativity.”
Grant makes the case for giving in his recently released book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success. Essentially, he says, people can be divided into three categories: Givers, Matchers, and Takers.
- Givers: These are the type of people we all aspire to be—they help others without a second thought, share information freely, and don’t expect anything in return.
- Matchers: These are folks who weigh the consequences of their actions and give when they think it’s most likely to benefit them. (The majority of the population falls into this category.)
- Takers: These folks are all about ‘what’s in it for me.’ They tend to take personal credit for any successes and, according to Grant, frequently follow a pattern of ‘kissing up, kicking down.’
Getting to ‘Giver’
If you find yourself in a team of takers, don’t despair. According to Grant’s research, a committed leader can foster a group of givers if she embraces three practices:
- Facilitating help-seeking: Foster an environment in which people learn that it’s OK to seek help from others and feel comfortable doing so. One suggestion: start a ‘reciprocity ring,’ a small-group exercise in which one member voices a desire and the other members seek to fulfill it. Research shows that the effects can be far-reaching.
- Recognizing and rewarding givers: Devise ways to reward acts of giving without creating a system that fosters unhealthy competition or ‘gaming’ of the system. The best programs, it appears, are those that allow modest rewards that may be given spontaneously. “One common model is to grant employees an equal number of tokens they can freely award to colleagues,” Grant notes.
- Screening out takers: Keep an eye out for those who are on the take, and do your best to avoid hiring them in the first place.
There’s no denying it—giving has a lot going for it. A workplace full of givers is not only more productive, it’s also a happier, healthier place to be.