Giving Gives Back

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Last week, the New York Times Magazine ran an article about giving. “Is giving the secret to getting ahead?” the article asked, profiling organizational psychology professor Adam Grant. Grant, 31, not only studies the role of giving in motivating workplace productivity, he also serves as his own best example of how selflessness increases efficiency. As the youngest-tenured and highest-rated professor at the Wharton School, Grant has, the article reports, “published more papers in his field’s top-tier journals than colleagues who have won lifetime-achievement awards.” He regularly advises companies on getting the most out of their employees and helping their employees get the most out of their jobs. He sets aside a four-and-a-half-hour chunk of time each week to meet with students, and he writes approximately 100 lengthy letters of recommendation for students each year.

That’s for starters. Grant often finds an inbox of 200 emails waiting for him when he gets home in the evenings. He is dedicated to replying, even to the ones coming from people he’s never met who seek his help. When a student at Warwick Business School in England wrote to ask him how he manages to publish so often, Grant took the time to write back to him and even added, “I’m happy to set up a phone call if you want to discuss!” That’s par for the course for him. You get the idea. As the article puts it, “For Grant, helping is not the enemy of productivity, a time-sapping diversion from the actual work at hand; it is the mother lode, the motivator that spurs increased productivity and creativity.” Did I mention that he’s the guy Google calls when they have “big problems” to solve in the people analytics department?

Grant’s studies about the effectiveness of giving are astonishing. At one university fundraiser call center, bringing in a scholarship recipient for a ten-minute talk about how the scholarship changed his life resulted in workers spending 142 percent more time soliciting donations on the phone and reaping 171 percent more revenue. A follow-up study showed that revenues continued to increase over time, to more than 400 percent. Simply knowing their work was having a profound effect on the lives of others made the callers work harder, Grant concluded.

In another study, Grant put up two different signs at hand-washing stations in a hospital. One read, “Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases”; the other read, “Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases.” When he subsequently measured the amount of soap used at each station, he found that doctors and nurses washing their hands at the station with the sign about patients used 45 percent more soap or hand sanitizer. Again, when other people stood to benefit, more effort was made.

So what’s the lesson here for owners and managers of gyms, health clubs, and other sports facilities? In a word: Give. How the principle of giving best applies in your context is up to you, but the numbers prove that, in general, giving gives back. Maybe it’s a matter of opening your door to your employees and providing them with whatever kind of help they need. Maybe it’s about giving more to your clients. Maybe, for you, it means adopting a philosophy like Grant’s: “He virtually never says no to the five-minute favor,” the article says, “something that will help someone out — an introduction, a quick suggestion — but cost him very little, relative to impact.” Whatever it is, you’re likely to see the results — and to gain the benefit of feeling good about what you do.

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