23 May 2021

Workplace give and take

Every day, employees make decisions about whether to act like givers or like takers.

When they act like givers, they contribute to others without seeking anything in return. They might offer assistance, share knowledge, or make valuable introductions. When they act like takers, they try to get other people to serve their ends while carefully guarding their own expertise and time.

Every workplace is made up of givers and takers – or, if you want to use a fancy term, contribution thinkers and entitlement thinkers.

Entitlement thinkers are typically self-focused and put their own interests ahead of others’ needs. They try to gain as much as possible from their interactions while contributing as little as they can in return. They firmly believe they are entitled to act in a certain way, and be recipients of every single perk known to humankind.

On the other hand, contribution thinkers are other-focused and tend to provide support to others with no strings attached. They ask themselves: “How can I add value for this person? What can I contribute?” Contribution thinkers freely share their ideas, opinions and support if it will help the greater good. And generally they do this for very little return, other than perhaps genuine gratitude.

It’s likely that you already know who in your team falls into what camp, but as a quick check it could be helpful to ask yourself: who are the team members I know will be the first to jump up if someone needs a hand? Who doesn’t seek out special rewards or recognition for simply doing their jobs? Who will go the extra mile when things get tough? It’s likely they are your contribution thinkers. A word of caution, though – contribution thinkers can often work too hard, give too much, suffer from exhaustion and, yes, at times will become under-performers because they are busy giving to everyone else. Entitlement thinkers are just that – they feel “entitled” to the workplace perks that might happen irregularly.

They are the ones who often race to achieve their own goals without being considerate of others. And, yes, they can be very independent and achievement-oriented individuals.

So how do you manage these two sets of employees in your workplace? According to Adam Grant, organisational psychologist, Wharton Professor and author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, creating an environment where givers can succeed must firstly involve targeting the takers in the organisation.

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.

Grant also notes that givers operate in high performance cultures where they help others, share knowledge and offer to mentor other employees, and make connections without expecting anything in return.

The takers dominated culture on the other hand and thrive by expecting others to help them as much as possible without giving anything in return.

It is easier said than done to implement a giver culture in your business and employees often struggle to make the transition from competitive culture to cooperative culture due to internal systems such as incentive systems.

However, if you’re a leader in business perhaps there is an opportunity to weed out your takers and look for ways to harness the positive in your givers (without burning them out).