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There are two types of people in this world. There are we givers and those who are takers. But according to a new study, there’s an absolute limit to our generosity.
As we’re all too aware, in life there are givers and there are takers. Givers have a high degree of empathy and concern for others; takers put themselves first and foremost and feel no compunction about taking advantage of the good will of others. We probably think that givers have a more rewarding and meaningful life but that’s not necessarily the case. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review had something to say about givers in the workplace.
In any given workplace, there are some people who put the needs of others ahead of their own. They tend to be proactive, making suggestions for improvement or tossing their ideas into play. They’re the ones who’ll help out when required, who’ll happily share their experience so that others can learn, the ones who take on tasks that no-one else wants, the ones who freely give their time to assist a co-worker dealing with a problem. They’ll often work late to catch up on the things they didn’t have time to do during the workday because they were too busy helping others. Givers are great for an organisation, because their input ensures that outcomes are achieved more quickly which usually results in higher overall performance and increased profits. Put simply, they add value to organisations.
But for the givers themselves, the consequences of generously attending to others’ needs ahead of their own are often that they become exhausted, stressed and overloaded. Sure, there’s a good feeling for having helped a colleague work through a knotty issue, but that feeling often comes at the cost of being drained both cognitively and emotionally. It also has an effect on the work they should have been doing for themselves – apart from the time lost, it’s very easy to lose focus when you’re constantly interrupted by requests for assistance.
Because they give so much of themselves to others, little time is left to complete their own duties. They also find themselves at meetings or presenting at seminars, or answering interminable emails, or having to cope with problems outside their remit. So they skip lunch, work late and on weekends, and feel constantly pressured because they’re spread so thinly.
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Being a giver clearly has a downside. Constantly responding to requests means using up energy stocks, so even though helping others is a positive and valuable exercise, it also has a somewhat negative overall effect on the giver. Exhaustion, fatigue, depletion – call it what you will. The reality is that givers can and do suffer burnout.
Studies have shown that the better and healthier response is for givers to step back just a bit in order to protect their own time. They must make themselves aware of their own needs and allow themselves the space to achieve their own goals. So setting boundaries is a positive first step if givers are to avoid that rollercoaster ride to burnout. It’s all about prioritising. So instead of dropping everything when a co-worker comes to them with a problem, it would be better to schedule a time later in the day or week so that givers can get through their own workloads first. They’re still helping, just at a more convenient time. Givers should also learn to delegate by referring requests for assistance to other qualified people in the workplace.
In some professions it may be beneficial for givers to organise a weekly Q&A session so that as many co-workers as possible can benefit from information that may well be applicable to others. This frees up time for givers allowing them to focus on their own workload and alleviate that sense of being ground down by an overwhelming load of obligations.
Importantly, givers also need to recognise the out-and-out takers. They’re normally the ones who are the most demanding, make multiple requests and take all this help as their due rather then a professional courtesy. Selfish by nature, they can suck you dry.
At work, we’ve all sought help at one time or other and we’ve all been asked for help. In most workplaces, colleagues collaborate for the good of the organisation and people usually try to help each other. But for serious givers, that willingness to put others first often results in their own personal detriment. Being generous at work doesn’t mean being available around the clock. If givers use their time wisely, they’re more likely to be more productive, happier and more motivated. Being an effective giver means taking care of your own needs and realising that you don’t have to be all things to all people at all times. Make use of your own particular skill set. Being helpful is a wonderful thing to be, but it can come at a high price.