Skip to main content

3 Ideas for More Generosity at Work

By Derek Irvine

Recognize This! – A culture of generosity is one aspect of a more human workplace that is a natural fit, but also needs to be curated.

There are many different ways that organizations can become more human, evidenced by the sheer diversity of ideas across our WorkHuman speakers and thinkers, as well as our own research. One idea seems to sit at the core of several of these approaches: a culture of generosity.

What does generosity mean in the context of work? According to recent behavioral economics research, it is part of a set of prosocial behaviors that emphasize interactions rooted in inclusion, cooperation, trust and fairness. Rather than zero-sum interactions defined by self-interest (based in traditional economic models), generosity contributes to more positive outcomes for all parties. It is a collective tide that can raise all boats.

The challenge for many businesses is ensuring that innate motivations towards generosity are not crowded out by organizational design and process, and instead, a culture of generosity is reinforced through positive practices and norms.

Extending the research findings from the article mentioned above, there are three factors that are important in reinforcing a culture of generosity:

1. Recognition rather than incentives.

Incentives, the article cautions, “may cause people to think in terms of cost-benefit calculations, rather than acting on goodwill.” Recognition on the other hand occurs after the fact and as an exciting surprise to the recipient. These dynamics encourage the repetition of positive behaviors across the organization, avoiding the unintended consequences that often accompany the criteria associated with incentives and punishments.

2. Promotion of inclusion and connection.

Leaders also need to guard against situations that “might undermine morality by encouraging a sense of distance and anonymity.” Alongside recognition, a culture of generosity begins with a shared feeling of inclusion, from all colleagues having the ability to recognize the contributions of others, making personal connections in pursuit of shared values and goals. Patterns of self-interest are much less likely when these personal connections are continually reinforced.

3. Establishment of positive social norms.

Moving towards a culture of generosity means that “when the right norms are in place… behavior is less impacted by incentives and more part of a person’s everyday habits.” It all comes back to the human-focused culture in which recognition and appreciation occurs. Based on the research, the key features of that culture are trust and fairness, as well as a feeling that the organization cares about the whole employee.

When these three factors are brought together into a cohesive and holistic design within the organization, the benefits of a culture of generosity become clear. Employees are able to reach higher levels through greater cooperation and recognition of one another, and ultimately achieve greater performance together.

What are some ways a culture of generosity could help your own company?