Giving can easily become a double-edged sword. That’s according to research by Adam Grant and Reb Rebele, who previewed some of their findings earlier this year. They found that employees who are “selfless givers” and don’t protect their time or energy can easily become overloaded with requests for help. They are at greater risk of both “generosity burnout” and less effective performance.
“Self-protective givers” – those on the lookout for high-impact, low-cost opportunities to give – can avoid some of those risks. They prioritize requests based on importance, focusing in areas that play to their strengths and contributing in ways that are often personally meaningful.
Consequently, self-protective givers tend to invest more of themselves in the contributions that they make, in turn allowing them to make greater contributions. Adam and Reb summarize those positive spirals like this:
“As giving aligns with your interests and skills, it becomes less stressful for you and more valuable to others. Rather than feeling pressured to help, you’re choosing to help, which is good for your motivation, your creativity, and your well-being. Instead of being known as a jack-of-all-trades, you’re seen as a master of a few. That frees you up to focus on helping where you have the most impact – which replenishes your energy by reminding you how much your contributions matter.” [emphasis mine]
That last line is important. Positive feedback and recognition reinforces giving, and is an important factor in determining whether giving results in energy replenishment or depletion.
I’ll tie this idea into a recent conversation I had with a colleague. He recounted something his spouse, a palliative care physician (and a fan of Adam’s work), had told him about giving in a healthcare setting: When you give, it is more than giving your time, resources, or even “capital” … fundamentally it’s about giving of your whole self.
Certainly strongest among helping professions (doctors, teachers, and the like), the sentiment nevertheless rings true for many of the rest of us. Giving in self-protective and mindful ways, we all are more personally invested and find greater meaning in the help we provide.
When we are recognized for that investment and reminded of how our giving matters, we are rejuvenated. When our contributions go unrecognized, the effect can be quite destructive, not only for the individual but for the culture of the team as well.
In addition to encouraging self-protective patterns of giving, organizations need to provide ways for employees to build on that giving, through recognition and positive feedback. Together, this will help ensure that organizations can sustainability benefit from a culture of giving.
How does your organization support giving and the recognition of those givers?
As Globoforce’s Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting, Derek Irvine is an internationally minded management professional with over 20 years of experience helping global companies set a higher ambition for global strategic employee recognition, leading workshops, strategy meetings and industry sessions around the world. He is the co-author of "The Power of Thanks" and his articles on fostering and managing a culture of appreciation through strategic recognition have been published in Businessweek, Workspan and HR Management. Derek splits his time between Dublin and Boston. Follow Derek on Twitter at @DerekIrvine.