Contradictory to traditional economic theory, acting in the interest of others can positively impact personal success.
By Minaal Adnani
At some point in our lives, we will enter the workplace and launch our professional careers. For millennials, the kind of culture a firm fosters is crucial to retaining top talent. What types of behaviors are important in the workplace? How do we position ourselves for success? According to the youngest tenured Wharton professor and author of Give and Take, Adam Grant, there are three kinds of people at work – givers, takers, and matchers. Which one do you want to be?
Well, it is important to know what the data shows on the success of givers, takers, and matchers. Givers are characterized as those who hope to contribute to a project, and take a generous approach to helping colleagues. To be truly innovative and collaborative, one must possess “a willingness to help others achieve their goals” (Grant, 2013).
Then, there are the “toxic takers,” as Grant coins them (Grant, 2013). Takers want to gain the maximum benefit from interactions in the workplace, whilst contributing as little as possible. They do not wish to deplete their own time and expertise, but rather “try to get other people to serve their ends” (Grant, 2013). Because of this attribute, takers can be viewed as hostile and domineering, and thus less likely to succeed.
Matchers are different to givers and takers in that they follow the norm within an organization or team. If the majority of individuals are givers, they will reciprocate with generosity, and vice versa. Matchers operate in a just society; when takers take advantage of others, a matcher responds by punishing them. They will try to ruin their relationships with colleagues, for example. On the other hand, when givers are not rewarded for their generosity, matchers will support them to correct this injustice (Knowledge@Wharton, 2013).
Who is more successful? Givers – those most generous – “were the most likely to fail big and succeed big” (Grant, 2013). They are overrepresented at both the bottom and the top of the success ladder (Grant, 2015). This is because there are two kinds of givers that exist. Let’s talk about the failed, “self-sacrificing givers” first. Grant posits that failed givers blindly help all people who need it, and promote the talent of others that ends in a loss for themselves. This ultimately results in burnout for the giver. They will prioritize other people’s work over their own. However, successful givers are more thoughtful when considering the reputation of the person they collaborate with. In fact, analyzing the data from the work behaviors of engineers shows that successful givers earned “50% more annual revenue, on average, than colleagues who focused less on helping others” (Grant, 2013).
Why does this matter to us? As organizations become more flat and team-based, the culture and level of employee engagement is represented by the individuals and their working style. Therefore, a firm with toxic takers, breeds a negative environment where each individual is out for themselves. Because of this, the firm cannot truly grow and succeed in the long-run. For millennials especially, this is a major deterrent. Conversely, an ethos of generosity, collaboration and invention, which is brought about my balanced givers can lead to exponential professional and company-wide growth.