The Positive Impact of a Giving Culture in the Workplace: Why you should nurture one

Does your organisation have a giving culture? In this video, I will introduce you to the theory of give and take, what it means to have a giving organisational culture, and why it pays to nurture one.

What is the Theory of Give and Take?

The theory of give and take was proposed by Adam Grant, an American popular science author and professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania specialising in organisational psychology. He says that are three common types of people in a typical workplace: takers, matchers, and givers.

  • Takers are selfish people who tend put their personal interests ahead of everybody else’s.
  • Matchers believe in the mantra: “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” They will give only as much as they think they will receive.
  • Givers, perform all sorts of selfless acts with no expectation of reciprocity.

But it doesn’t stop there. Grant also says that there are two types of givers: winners and losers.

  • Losing givers allow themselves to get exploited and become burnt out in the process.
  • Winning givers learn who to give without allowing themselves to be taken advantage of in the work environment. Instead of giving to anyone and everyone who needs assistance, which losing givers tend todo, winners are more intentional on who they help and what they contribute.

Between all types of workers, it is the winners who get ahead and succeed. More importantly, winners help the organisation they belong to get ahead and succeed through their selfless acts with no expectation of reciprocity. And this is the main reason why it pays for any business to nurture a giving culture.

Why is nurturing a giving culture a sound business strategy?

It is because, of the three strategies at work, taking, matching and giving, it is giving that prospers in the long run.

Takers may succeed initially. Once their selfish motives are found out or they make the wrong move, they will likely pay the price of taking too much. Think about controversial leaders who were highly successful until their fall from grace. And even if takers are not found out, business owners need to be wary of their motives. Takers will act on selfish motives. When their self-interest does not align with the interests of the business, they will do more harm than good for your company.

Matchers, on the other hand, don’t suffer a similar fate only because they give as much as they take. However, those around them recognise the transactional nature of their giving and do so for selfish personal interests. They give because they intend to take, and so people won’t give matchers credit for their “good”  behavior.

Giving, on the other hand, nurtures goodwill. Givers are workers who look after the well-being of their team, and in doing so, they build a network of grateful colleagues who gladly work with them. Research suggests that businesses with higher rates of giving are likely to be more profitable, more productive, and more efficient. They also have higher customer satisfaction, lower costs, and lower turnover rates.

Why is this so? Because givers act in the best interest of their team. Winners, in particular, work to align their personal interests and goals with the interests and goals that serve everyone. In doing so, “they facilitate efficient problem solving and coordination and build cohesive, supportive cultures that appeal to customers, suppliers, and top talent.”

How do you nurture a culture of giving?

The obvious answer would seem hiring more givers, especially the winning givers. But Grant believes that the most important thing in a giving culture is to screen out takers. He believes that the “negative impact of a taker is double or triple the positive impact of a giver.” It takes one bad apple to create friction in the team and disrupt the winners’ psychological safety.

Grant says that the main sign that someone’s a taker is when you see patterns of “kissing up and kicking down.” Takers will work well with their superiors, but they seem to always have issues with people who work with them or the people they manage. They take a lot of credit for successes of the team, but will be quick to blame others for failures. On the other hand, Givers will take responsibility for failed outcomes and give credit to the entire team for its success.

Nurturing a giving culture also means helping losing givers develop winning traits.

How do we help losing givers overcome abuse?

If you notice a losing giver in your team, or if you are one yourself, it’s time to learn how to overcome abuse and grow into a winning giver.

Nurturing a giving culture is good business practice because it sets you up for success that benefits everyone. Building a team of givers helps improve productivity and profitability. But more importantly, nurturing a giving culture means you screen out abusive takers from the team and teaching losing givers to set boundaries and stand up for themselves.

  1. Learn how to say NO.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Winning givers are intentional in their giving. They don’t give indiscriminately. Instead, they consider carefully how giving helps the team and whether it will harm themselves in the process. If it takes time and energy away from what matters to you and the good of the team, say no. Protect your energy and your time—these are valuable resources that are best used for projects and endeavors that align with the goals of your organisation and your personal goals and values.

  1. Overcome timidity by thinking about others

Losing winners often put others’ needs above themselves because they have not learned how to advocate for themselves. We can help them turn things around by using their empathy for others to their advantage.

For example, a losing giver often spends too much time helping a taker colleague, which impacts his productivity because he is too timid to say no. He finds himself going on overtime to compensate.

To help him turn things around, ask him to see the bigger picture. How does helping the colleague improve his performance and the entire company’s performance? How does this improve team morale, knowing that others capably fulfill their roles and an abusive taker is allowed to perform incompetently? How does it help the company’s bottom line, when a one-person role requires two people to fulfill it—not to mention the overtime he needs to do to perform his own role?

If a losing giver finds it difficult to advocate for himself, maybe he or she can start by learning to advocate for the team. Teach him how to take a different perspective so he learns to say no.

  1. Learn to set boundaries

Helping others is a good thing, but you also need to take into consideration whether helping others is healthy for you. When helping others, take into consideration not just how they will feel, but also how they think and why they’re asking you for help. If their reasoning doesn’t align with what’s healthy for you and the team, it’s OK to say no and set those boundaries.


Take the time to reflect on yourself and your team. Identify what kind of culture your company promotes and look at how you want to do things differently—and work from there.



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