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Why Giving is Key to Success At Work

Being a giver isn’t just good for the soul—science shows that it improves your health, performance, productivity and relationships.

From the time we’re children, we’re taught about the importance of giving. Our parents and teachers impress upon us that there’s a special joy and satisfaction that comes from helping others . Learning to give is one of the most fundamental expressions of our humanity, and we carry it into adulthood in various ways— supporting family and friends, volunteering, contributing to charities and worthy causes, and using a growing number of online tools that allow us to impact the lives of others, whether they live in our communities or on the other side of the world.

But giving is so much more than just a kind thing to do. A wealth of research shows that giving also improves nearly every aspect of our work lives. If you’ve ever thought of giving as a “soft” skill incompatible with what drives workplace success, the science will convince you otherwise. Once you commit to being a giver at work, you’ll see all of the ways it can improve your relationships, productivity and performance—while also bringing you a newfound satisfaction and sense of purpose.

Welcome to the Thrive Guide to Giving

Thrive Global is a behavior change platform focused on lowering stress and increasing well-being and productivity. The company, founded by Arianna Huffington, creates lasting change in people’s lives by giving them sustainable, science-backed solutions to enhance their performance and overall well-being.

This Thrive Guide will explain why giving has become a key metric for the well-being of countries, communities, companies and individuals. And it will show you exactly how you can make giving part of your life and work, with benefits to both you and those you help.

There are many ways to give, and almost all of them are simple. The challenge is getting yourself to commit to making giving a habit. When you do, you’ll find yourself being more generous, helpful and outward-looking in ways big and small that strengthen both your relationships and your sense of purpose. You’ll see how easy it is with our Thrive Global Microsteps—simple, science-backed changes you can start incorporating into your life today.

Along the way, you’ll meet New Role Models who are proving every day that giving is a win-win—both in life and at work. For example, Valerie Jarrett told Thrive that being able to have a positive impact on people’s lives is what gives her energy and purpose. Business leader Mack McLarty told Thrive he finds fulfillment by working with others to make things better—at work, at home and in various civic organizations he’s a part of. And philanthropist and tech entrepreneur David C. Bohnett told Thrive that helping others is one of his top priorities.

The combination of technology and generosity is immensely powerful, and we’re living in a golden age of tech-powered giving.We’ve never before been able to impact the lives of others so quickly and efficiently. In our Tech to Thrive section, we’ll look at some of the giving-focused apps you should know about.

And since a culture of giving has to be cultivated and sustained, our Managerial Take-aways section offers advice on how you can encourage and celebrate giving among your direct reports and within your team.

By the end of this guide, you’ll have the tools and practical advice you need to think differently about how best to achieve your goals, at work and in life—and why giving is such a big part of that.

Giving Around the World

Before we look at the role giving plays in the workplace, let’s take a big picture look at how giving can shape our lives, and the world, for the better.

The UK-based Charities Aid Foundation issues an annual World Giving Index, a widely-cited ranking of countries based on how much citizens help strangers, donate money and volunteer their time. You may or may not be surprised to find that the wealthiest countries are not necessarily the most generous. As The Guardian notes, only six G20 nations placed among the top 20 in the 2017 Index. The top five most generous countries were Myanmar, Indonesia, Kenya, New Zealand and the United States.

In business, giving is a key pillar of a growing global movement that’s based on purpose. As Valerie Keller, global leader of EY’s Beacon Institute, wrote on Thrive Global, “Purpose is key to success at every level of an organization…from entry-level positions and middle management to the C-suite and the board…and from Mumbai to Miami to Marrakech.” Generosity has become a key measure of a company’s impact; in 2015, the world’s 20 most generous companies donated $3.5 billion, subsidizing efforts that included building health facilities in India, expanding economic development opportunities in Latin America and improving access to clean drinking water in Africa.

But even if we acknowledge the importance of organizational purpose, how can we turn it from an abstract concept into a concrete part of our days? Next, we’ll look at the reality of what it takes to succeed in a competitive workplace, and how purpose—and specifically, giving—can help you thrive within it.

The Science That Shows Giving is the Ultimate Win-Win

Competition—both between organizations and within them—isn’t just the way the business world works; it’s a powerful driver that can inspire you to work smarter, think bigger and approach problems with more creativity.

For most of us, that means striving for some combination of the following: distinguishing yourself among your colleagues, impressing your boss, producing quality work and exceeding your goals. If you work on commission, or if your compensation or bonus potential is linked to your performance, you have specific incentives to outperform the competition—who, in many cases, are your own co-workers and closest collaborators.

Given all of this, one strategy is to approach your career in a way that is, at its core, all about you—trust no one, hoard information and resources, make decisions based on what suits you in the moment and undermine your colleagues if it helps you get a leg up. Take a page from the classic American Wall Street character Gordon Gekko, whose playbook said “greed is good” and pursue your self-oriented definition of success no matter how it affects your relationships, your organization and even the world around you.

But there’s another way to get to the top. Research shows that when you give, you’ll find new pathways to success and open yourself up to important new possibilities, especially a sense of purpose. At a time when purpose is a growing priority among the most results-oriented business leaders, and when science shows it can differentiate individuals and organizations from the competition, it’s clear that if you really want to optimize your performance, you need to make giving part of how you work with others.

The benefits of giving may be self-evident, but they’re also grounded in science. A study published in the journal Nature Communications found that even small acts of generosity can change our brain activity in ways that increase our happiness. And a UCLA study found that different kinds of happiness affect our well-being in different ways at the genetic level: participants whose happiness was purpose-based experienced more health benefits than those whose happiness derived from consumption and self-gratification. Have you ever gone out of your way to help a colleague and felt a physical sensation as a result of knowing you’ve made a difference? Author Allan Luks coined the term “helper’s high” to describe this—a feeling that leaves us more energetic, calm and filled with a greater sense of self-worth.

Giving has even been shown to change how we experience time. We’ve all struggled with what Harvard professor Leslie Perlow calls “time famine”—the feeling that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for all that has to get done. But when we spend time on others, we’re more likely to feel an expanded sense of time, according to a study published by the Association for Psychological Science. As the study authors put it, “spending time on others increases one’s feeling of time affluence”—the enviable and elusive feeling that we have more time than we need.

With such wide-ranging benefits, it’s no wonder businesses are putting a greater emphasis on creating cultures that reward and encourage giving. Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and author of the best seller Give and Take, cites research showing that employees at every level of an organization are more successful when they make giving central to their work. And companies are recognizing that creating cultures rooted in purpose is a key way “to attract and retain top talent,” said Mike Preston, Chief Talent Officer of Deloitte LLP. That’s one reason employee well-being programs that include volunteer activities and charitable giving are on the rise.

Armed with science and real-world examples, you’re ready to shift your attitude and actions in the direction of greater giving—and thus, more purpose. If you’ve already made giving central to your work, you have an opportunity to double down and bring others along with you to a more effective and satisfying way of living and working.

Now, let’s take all this knowledge and put it into action.

Microsteps

Here are three small, actionable steps you can take to bring more giving and gratitude into your life.

1. Use a skill or talent you have to help someone who could benefit from it.

Giving back has been proven to boost our sense of purpose and well-being. It jumpstarts your transition from a go-getter to a go-giver, and reconnect you to the world and to the natural abundance in your own life.  

2. Take a moment every week to compliment a coworker on a job well done.

It’s one of the best ways to show gratitude, which not only helps strengthen relationships, but helps us cope better with stress and boosts resilience, too.

3. Once a day, ask a colleague, “how can I help?”

It’s not always clear how you can give most effectively. So make these words part of your daily vocabulary and let others tell you how you can be most helpful. Plus, research shows that when we spend time on others, our sense of our own time actually expands. 

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