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044 How to Give and Be More Altruistic

Small stacks of note cards and envelopes spread out on the table, waiting to be written, addressed, and mailed. Holiday classics play softly on Spotify, and the scented candle gives off scents of pine and firewood. It is that time of year for giving and forgiving, gathering and celebration.


In the spirit of giving, today's post will focus on the benefits of generosity and altruism and how we can give more at work and throughout this holiday season.


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Benefits of Giving

Research found that giving to others and being generous are prosocial behaviors that promote species' evolution and survival in humans and animals. It went further and reported that we are biologically wired to help others. Studies observed toddlers and young children readily sharing resources such as giving toys, suggesting that we are born with such qualities.


How much a person displays these traits depends on their values, humility, and feelings of compassion and empathy. Children who are more exposed to giving behavior tend to be more generous later in life. External factors could also influence one's behavior. One might be more likely to help another if the act was more likely to be reciprocated or observed by others. Someone could donate to a local cause out of guilt or fear of being seen as uncharitable.


The benefits of being charitable or altruistic include improved physical and mental health. Studies found that volunteering and engaging in civic activities lowered the risk of serious illness and death. Psychologically, participants in the research reported increased purpose in life, better social integration and community cooperation, and a greater perception of competence. When we help someone else, we become more aware of our capabilities and resources, thus feeling more confident and optimistic about our own life. We feel good when we help others.


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Because of this, some argue that altruism can never be genuinely selfless. The Warm-Glow Giving effect, an behavioral economic theory, states that people give to get the satisfaction of doing their part, the pleasure of having done the right thing, or the recognition from being altruistic. But should the intrinsic motivation of the giver matter? Instead of questioning why someone has made a generous gesture, perhaps it is more relevant to focus on the impact of the gesture on the recipient. Has the altruistic act helped the recipient and alleviated their situation?


How to Give

Sometimes we want to help but don't know how. Being generous is about sharing something that has meaning or importance to you, including time, knowledge, or money. What we share depends on what is needed by the recipient. For a small business in your community, this could be a positive review on Google. This simple act takes five minutes but could help others discover the business and support the business growth. Advocacy is a powerful marketing tool for small businesses.


It is also helpful to give unconditionally and not keep track of what you may get in return from others. Look for opportunities to be considerate and to support others. Support local businesses, attend community events (potentially online in times of the COVID-19 pandemic), and spread the word to family and friends. Be mindful that smaller businesses don't have the same resources as larger companies to offer similar levels of speed and convenience. Being a champion for local and small businesses helps economic growth and community integration in the long run.


Examples of Giving in the Workplace

Being generous could mean anticipating the needs and offering support to coworkers at work. Perhaps someone at work has a sick child and needs help to complete their tasks for the day. Younger team members need mentorship and coaching and may not know how to ask for it. Being attentive and taking an interest in colleagues can present opportunities to help others effectively.


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It can be easy to hold a grudge after a heated discussion or a mistake. Practicing forgiveness after a conflict can mitigate the risk of disengagement at work or aggressive behavior that leads to lower levels of collaboration. Leaders can model forgiveness, and as individuals, we can take responsibility for our mistakes by apologizing and offering ways to make restitution. If needed, ask a third party to intervene and moderate the discussion, gain perspective and rebuild trust between the parties.


The starting point of altruism and generosity is empathy. By considering the impact of our behavior, we can be more generous to colleagues. When organizing company events, take into account dietary sensitivities. Be conscious of how our actions can affect others. For example, consider the impact on the recipient of the email you are about to send: when is the request sent out and what is the tone of the email. Sometimes minor adjustments could have an enormous effect on others.


Pay It Forward

Such generous behavior tends to be noticed by others and repeated and paid forward. As social beings, when we benefit from kindness and can't repay the giver, we tend to pay it forward by helping others. This creates a momentum of positive and reinforcing behavior within the community. Within the workplace, being role models and inviting others to join in a social cause is one way to help others give and create a closer network within the organization. Organizations with giving cultures tend to have more engaged teams as employees derive more satisfaction and meaning at work.


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A word of caution about giving: similar to companies that practice Altruistic Capitalism and focus on creating a positive impact on people and the planet, there is a need to draw boundaries. Being purpose-driven should not be at the detriment of the financial wellbeing of the organization. We should be generous with a healthy level of selfishness. Being altruistic should not hurt the giver or put the giver in harm's way. We need to come from a place of solid wellbeing before helping others.


Finally, while we often think about giving at this time of the year, how might we practice altruism more regularly. How could we be more generous throughout the year? Instead of making one-off donations, how could we give more sustainably? Platforms such as GiveWell, Charity Watch and Charity Navigator evaluate non-profit organizations on their financial stability, accountability and transparency, and impact of their activities. These organizations can empower givers to be more effective in their giving.

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