Now Trending: Generosity

I was recently at a yoga workshop and was surprised how much of the focus was on the concept of generosity. It was mentioned early on in the day, and I’m glad because then I had something to think about as I twisted and contorted my body in ways that will probably leave me sore for days. I don’t normally practice yoga, but my wife talked me into it, and I’m really glad I went. It was a good reminder that to stay healthy, you really need to keep your body moving and stretching. But what I kept thinking about throughout the day was how important generosity is in the workplace, even though we almost never talk about it openly.


People tend to think about generosity as applying mostly to their money, and the classic portrayal of the opposite of generosity is found in the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. I would encourage you to either read the novella or watch one of the many movie versions that exist (the Muppets move starring Michael Cain as Ebenezer Scrooge is particularly good). Even better, when the holiday season comes around again, keep your eyes peeled for a stage production of the story by a local theatre company, which can be a very powerful way to take it in.

Dickens first published the story back in 1843, and it’s impressive to consider how deeply rooted it has become in our culture. More than a name, scrooge is a noun that means the opposite of generosity. Ebenezer Scrooge is stingy and miserly, and he’s not a very happy person. The transformation he goes through towards the end of the play, sparked by his fear of premature death, leaves him generous and sharing, and he’s instantly a happier person.

Now apply this same line of thinking to the workplace. Can you imagine how much better work would be if everyone was less stingy and more generous? Here’s how I think generosity can play out in the workplace:

  • Time: I saw a teacher once who was always so concerned and stressed out about the lack of time to get everything done that she basically snuffed out the love of learning in many of her students. Time is a critical resource in the workplace, no doubt about it, but instead of focusing on the lack of it, be generous with it when it comes to helping employees do and become their very best. And yes, this may mean learning how to better manage your time to make the most of it.
  • Feedback: Regular, ongoing, constructive feedback is essential to getting the performance your organization needs to succeed, but it also needs to be balanced between positive and negative feedback, and delivered in overall positive way (see my article, Riding the Curve of Feedback).
  • Talent: Being generous with you’re the personal talents you bring to the workplace means being in the right place. In his classic business book Good to Great, Jim Collins notes how important it is not only to get the right people on the bus, but then to also make sure that those people end up in the right seats on the bus. While this advice is largely directed towards hiring practices, it is also important for you to ask yourself – are you in the right place where generous sharing of your talents can do the most good?
  • Kindness: Have you ever noticed how easy it is for things in the workplace to get competitive and cutthroat? I firmly believe that in the long run the only way to really get ahead is through generosity in kindness. This means reminding ourselves of the Golden Rule, which says we must treat others the way we ourselves would want to be treated. Here’s the thing: It’s fine to climb the corporate ladder, but not by stepping on others. We must refrain from those tempting opportunities to make ourselves look good by making others look bad – something that the workplace seems to offer up on nearly a daily basis.

Here we are in the 21st century. We’ve weathered a Great Recession. Things are looking up. It’s at times like these that we should pay particular attention to cultivating the kinds of values that will result in long-term happiness and success in the workplace and beyond.

January 28, 2015   Updated :March 14, 2015   generosity, golden rule, kindness   

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