Making Our Work Lives Better

It Still Proves Better to Give Than Receive

“This one’s on me.” I’m pretty sure that most of us have said this at some point of our adult lives, probably in the context of giving comfort to a good friend by treating him or her to a cup of coffee, a glass of wine or beer, or a nice meal. It’s a good feeling. There’s another meaning to that phrase, however. The other meaning would be that it’s my bad and I could have done more—be it to have secured a new contract, sign on a big advertiser or—in a different sense—avoid a loss in a team sport.

Where the two meanings shall meet brings me to a post this summer on the Harvard Business Review HBR Blog Network by Shawn Achor, the founder of Good Think, Inc. and the author of The Happiness Advantage. “The more we have studied social support, the more we realize it is the key to every single business and educational outcome,” Achor writes. “Studies even show that high levels of social support [are] as predictive of longevity as regular exercise, while low social support is as damaging as high blood pressure. That’s amazing.”

But how do we get social support? And what if it’s not enough? Do we lay that blame on others—bosses, colleagues, parents. Achor says no; he wants to turn that notion on its head, insisting it is still better to give than to receive. “It turns out, that giving feels better, does more for you, and provides greater returns in the long run, than getting ever does.”

It should be on us, he says. We should be taking the initiative, giving the support and being there for our friends. “Instead of looking at what your manager was providing to you, we looked to see if you took the initiative in developing work relationships…” and getting to know coworkers. “The findings were extraordinary,” he writes and proceeds to describe the work outputs and engagement of the people who receive vs. the people who give, even tying his findings to a huge gap in promotions received.

I was led to this article by Tom Fox’s On Leadership column in the Washington Post. He likes the idea of putting solutions in our hands, rather than just laying blame. (In fact, after mentioning Achor’s theory, Fox goes on to describe how we can provide social support to our own colleagues and employees.) Fox is taken with a final quote from Achor’s column and I must say I was as well.

“In an era of do-more-with-less, we need to stop lamenting how little social support we feel from managers, coworkers and friends, and start focusing our brain’s resources upon how we can increase the amount of social support we provide to the people in our lives. The greatest predictor of success and happiness at work is social support. And the greatest way to increase social support is to provide it to others.”

I will add that I don’t think we should expect to get back exactly what we put in. It just doesn’t work that way. But we should expect to feel better about ourselves and our lives—which, of course, our jobs are a huge part of. “…95% of people who provide no social support at work have no work engagement!” Achor writes.

That’s quite a number. It may be a bit of an altruistic—and pie-in-the-sky—way of looking at things, but the idea of putting more responsibility for our situation on what we do and not what someone else does, does seem sound and more manageable. And what’s wrong with a bit of altruism now and then?


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