The Business Case: How Generosity Can Transform Your Corporate Culture

Sharon Lipinski May 14, 2018

In January 2015, the Journal of Organizational Behavior published a study that confirms how culture impacts a company’s performance. Researchers followed 95 independently-owned car dealers from across the US. Though they sold the same products, the dealerships with a better workplace culture had higher customer service ratings and sold more cars.

Culture is a company’s competitive edge, but creating one that facilitates productivity, employee engagement, and profit can prove challenging. The best way to transform your corporate culture is from the inside out, and data shows that the quickest way to get there is by inspiring a spirit of generosity at three levels.

1. Community

Corporate philanthropy is an opportunity for an organization and its employees to make an impact on their community. A shared and inspiring philanthropic mission creates purpose, vision, and the experience of belonging to something greater than oneself.

Not only does philanthropy in the workplace serve to improve an organization’s reputation, but it’s also good for employee engagement. A 2011 Deloitte Volunteer Impact Survey showed that Millennial employees who volunteered with their companies were twice as likely to rate their corporate culture as very positive and more likely to be very proud to work for their company. They were also more likely to feel loyal toward their company, more likely to be very satisfied with their employer, and more likely to recommend their company to a friend.

2. Corporation

If employees are working 40 hours a week, there’s a good chance they’re spending as much or more time with their coworkers as they are with their families. Just like at home, conflict can arise at the workplace. According to CPP, Inc., American employees “spend 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict, equating to approximately $359 billion in paid hours.” Nearly 10 percent of employees reported that workplace conflict led to project failure, 27 percent witnessed conflict morph into personal attacks, and 25 percent admitted that the avoidance of conflict resulted in sickness or absence from work.

A culture of conflict can be transformed when employees engage in generous actions like mentoring new employees, championing their coworkers’ ideas, and sharing their own insights and expertise while giving credit to others and celebrating their successes. Generosity among coworkers creates a sense of community that drives collaboration, tolerance, and teamwork.

These types of generous behaviors also create greater productivity and profit. For example, mentoring programs result in more valuable employees. Sun Microsystems tracked data from more than 1,000 employees over a five-year period and found that mentees were five times more likely to have a salary increase and six times more likely to be promoted than their non-mentored peers. They were also significantly more likely to remain at the company.

For good or for bad, leaders set the tone for generous behavior. A 2015 Gallup poll found that half of people who quit their jobs left to get away from a manager. Leaders who are generous are more respected and inspire better performance. A 2012 study on CEO behavior and firm performance found that firms in which employees agreed with statements like “the CEO seems to care more about the organization’s success than his or her own” had significantly higher returns relative both to other firms and to their own past performance.

3. Individual

When most people think about generosity, they think about giving to others, but people also have to be generous to themselves. The cost of poor physical and mental health is staggering for workplaces. But employees who give themselves what they need to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy have greater physical energy and emotional stability to bring to their personal and professional lives. Employees who don’t take care of their well-being can burn out and get resentful, angry, or even sick.

Burnout affects employers in a variety of ways including presenteeism, absenteeism, lower quality work, disengagement, and increased moodiness like complaining and cynicism — and that’s among the employees who stay. After surveying its staff for two years, Stanford Medicine found that those with symptoms of burnout were more than twice as likely to leave the organization. The hospital estimated the two-year cost of turnover would amount to a minimum of $15.5 million but could goes as high as $55.5 million.

Employees who are generous to themselves know how make judicious use of the word “no” and set better boundaries. They are more likely to say no to projects they can’t finish and less likely to burn out, because they know that their ability to give to their coworkers is diminished when they don’t give to themselves.

The benefits of three-level generosity

Creating a corporate culture that facilitates productivity and employee engagement to the benefit of the bottom line must strike a balance among all three areas listed above. Giving to the community is important, because without it employees may feel like their work lives are insignificant and say things like, “What is the point? Is this all there is?” Giving to coworkers is important, because without it employees can feel lonely and disconnected from the people with whom they spend half their waking hours. Giving to oneself is important, because without it employees’ physical and mental health can deteriorate — causing a cascade of effects including increased healthcare costs, decreased employee engagement, lower productivity, and more.

When you create a workplace where employees are generous to themselves, their co-workers, and their community, you create a workplace engaged with a sense of purpose, guided by a deep sense of community, and with the mental, emotional, and spiritual resources needed to sustain their work.

Social Entrepreneurship / Stakeholder Capitalism
Join the SOCAP Newsletter!