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The Magic Of Altruism In The Workplace

Updated: Aug 4, 2019

The Magic Of Altruism In The Workplace, article by Dr Nadine Greiner PhD

In his groundbreaking book "Give and Take", Adam Grant argues that there are three types of individuals in the world: givers, takers, and matchers. Givers are altruistic. They give more to others than they receive. Takers, on the other hand, are largely self-serving. They constantly ask, “What’s in it for me?” They form relationships with an eye on advancing their own agendas. Matchers fall in the middle of the spectrum. They believe that relationships should be largely reciprocal in nature and tend to give as much to others as they receive.

It turns out that these categories are also applicable in the workplace. Workers can be broadly bucketed into one of the three categories.

The surprising science of givers

Which type of worker do you think is most effective in the workplace? The answer may surprise you. Grant’s research revealed that givers are both the most and least effective type of individual in the workplace. It turns out that being a giver has many downsides. Givers put others first without any expectations of return. This causes them to gain trust. But it can also be dangerous and lead to people taking advantage. There’s an art and science associated with being a successful giver in the workplace.

Prioritize altruism

Altruism is a hallmark of givers. Altruists help others. They focus on the long-term and don't conceptualize relationships as mere transactions. In doing so, they gain respect. Members of their network are motivated to help them and open up doors to career and other advancement opportunities.

Fortunately, altruism can be learned and perfected over time. Research out of the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds found that individuals can be trained to become more compassionate. Training can result in fundamental changes in brain activity that can cause individuals to be more altruistic.

The Magic Of Altruism In The Workplace, quote by Dr Nadine Greiner PhD

Be an “otherish” giver

There are two flavors of givers: selfless givers and “otherish” givers. They are two very different sides of the same human coin. Selfless givers are completely indebted to others. They drop everything to help people. While this is admirable, it quickly leads to burnout. It’s impossible for them to be productive when they’re worried about helping everyone else. Their performance inevitably plummets.

Otherish givers are strategic about giving. They are on the lookout for takers and make sure they are not taken advantage of. They prioritize help so that they’re still able to remain productive. And they enlist the help of others when they need to. These tendencies cause them to be among the top performers in an organization.

Pick your special sauce

The key to being an otherish giver is to carefully select your superpower. Don’t try to be a jack of all trades. Instead, pick something that you specialize in that is useful to your coworkers. Perhaps you’re a time management pro. Perhaps you have a unique understanding of your customers. Perhaps you have deep insight into future work trends. Pick one or two skills that you can impart on others. This will help you maximize your impact and minimize the likelihood of burnout.

Are you an otherish giver? An executive coach can be a powerful force in helping you hone your inner giver. Depending on client needs, there are psychological approaches to build altruism, including cognitive-behavioral, narrative, and psychodynamic approaches. By incorporating new perspectives, mindfulness, gratitude, and compassion into daily routines, clients are able to boost their altruistic behaviors and create stronger professional relationships. As the poet John Andres Holmes once remarked, "There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up."


Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. provides Executive Coaching and Human Resources solutions. Her mission is to make the executive experience exceptionally enjoyable and effective. She believes that the world needs great leaders, and has dedicated her career to helping them.

As an organization psychologist and former corporate CEO, Dr. Nadine understands the pressures and demands executives face. She offers her clients the high expertise that only comes with three decades of consulting success, and a dual Ph.D. in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Nadine is an in-demand speaker, teaches in doctoral programs, and coaches other consultants. She is the author of two books: ‘The Art of Executive Coaching: Secrets to Unlock Leadership Performance’, and of ‘Stress-less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and in Life’.

Contact Information: Feel free to email Dr. Nadine San Francisco Executive Coaching at or by phone at (415) 861-8383.


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