Why Generosity Is Key to Everything — Including Your Career

by Mardee Handler on 22 July 2014 2 comments

True generosity means giving without expecting anything — zero, zilch, nada — in return. Generosity takes many forms, both tangible and intangible.

You donate to a specific cause, volunteer at a food pantry, offer to help the intern write a press release, give away free copies of your recently published book… Opportunities to brighten someone's day abound. And yet, although it may seem paradoxical, being generous can also brighten your day — and your career. (See also: 5 Ways Giving to Charity Is Good For You)

Generosity Can Boost Your Career — and Happiness

Giving makes people happier, increasing their productivity at work and leading to long-term success.

A 2008 Harvard Business School study found that participants who gave money to another person resulted in greater feelings of happiness than those who spent money to buy something for themselves. While this study specifically focused on participants giving something tangible (money), the same logic can apply to intangible gifts of generosity, like time, advice, and mentoring.

Happier people make better employees because they work harder and tend to be more productive. Just ask the folks at Zappos and Google, two companies well known for their innovative corporate culture based on happy employees.

The positive feelings that result from acts of generosity can be traced to biology, according to an earlier study conducted by the National Institutes of Health. Regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust are activated when people contribute to charity, according to the research.

"Charity" in your career may take the form of leading a networking discussion group, offering a free podcast, or introducing a recent college graduate to your company's hiring manager.

Team Players Win the Networking Game

Karma aside, the selfish ones usually finish last — and alone. By contrast, in life and at work, generous people generally build supportive networks. They are seen as more likable, and people are attracted to their presence (perhaps because they are so happy!).

Generosity also helps you exude confidence. When you offer to mentor the new hire on your sales team, you send a positive message: "I know I'm good at what I do, and I'm not afraid that you'll overtake me in sales if I show you my trade secrets."

Confident people often believe that knowledge is like the flame of a candle; it shines just as brightly no matter if one person or 10 people are enjoying its beauty. Therefore, they don't feel a need to "hoard" information due to any insecurities. They are true team players.

Eleanor C. Whitney, author of the book Grow, said that "when you act with generosity you are consistently open with your skills, ideas and knowledge. When you are generous you don't just give of yourself, but acknowledge the contributions and needs of others. The result is a network of people who are also willing to help you."

Networking — and its multiplier effect — can be one of the most influential factors leading to professional success. It is often listed as the number one way to find a job. And the importance of networking — in person and online — extends throughout your career, by increasing your exposure (and, thereby, perhaps sales) and by building and nurturing mutually beneficial relationships.

Generous People Make More Effective Bosses...

…Which in turn inspires more successful employees.

It may be one of the least-touted qualities of a good leader, but generosity may well be one of the most important. Communications expert Jodi Glickman explains that if a manager or leader is generous, he or she is generally well-liked.

But it goes much further than that. "Generous bosses get 10x the productivity from their employees; generous employees' stars rise in tandem with their bosses'."

Small Gestures Go a Long Way

Being generous doesn't necessarily mean donating a million dollars to your favorite charity (although that would indeed be generous!).

Giving your time to mentor a new employee may take just an hour out of your day, but could set your new colleague on a solid path for success. Contributing $5 to the kitty for the mailroom employee's 10th anniversary at the company won't break your bank, but the collective efforts of your department breed feelings of social connectedness and goodwill.

Thanks to social media, we are more up-to-date than ever when it comes to our friends' and colleagues' professional news. That means plenty of opportunities to send a congratulatory email to a former co-worker on a new job, refer a friend for a vacant position in your company, wish your new client all the best as she goes on maternity leave, or offer some insightful tips to a group discussion on LinkedIn.

Being generous with your thoughtfulness in ways that you might deem "insignificant" could have a very big impact on someone else.

Win-Win Doesn't Get Any More Classic

When you give to others, the world gets a little brighter. Generosity is about more than karma — what goes around comes around — and its ripple effects can boomerang back to you in many positive, often unexpected, ways, especially in your career.

How has generosity boosted your career? Please share in comments!

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Gary Kerr

Great job. I was aware of the fact that generosity plays an important role in boost up for career.I found so many good points.Thanks a lot for sharing the insights with all of us.

Mardee Handler's picture

Thanks for the kind words, Gary ... very "generous" of you! I really enjoyed writing this article, as I learned a lot about the power of generosity in the process.