Is your company culture defined by altruism? If so, then congratulations! Your workplace model reduces employee stress, promotes cooperation, and is dedicated to addressing problems in a compassionate yet thorough way. If not, you could be in big trouble long term.
What Is Workplace Altruism?
Merriam-Webster defines altruism as “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others.” In the workplace, this can take the form of showing respect and consideration for other staff members. In other words, workplace altruism is all about conveying the message you care about your fellow employees.
This care can come in many forms but often is expressed in the following ways:
- Offering employees generous health care and PTO benefits
- Encouraging employees to speak with each other and have positive interactions
- Expecting employees to use their vacation time
- Prioritizing staff work/life balance
- Promoting cooperation and mutual helpfulness between employees
- Respecting employee boundaries because they have a right to them
- Discouraging excessive overtime or unpaid labor
- Hiring managers who are competent, can give directions while being respectful, and understand how to motivate people positively
- Honoring the staff’s rights to breaks and lunches and even potentially providing lunch and snacks
- Setting up a system where employees can feel safe voicing concerns
- Taking employee hardships like bereavement, poor health, or family issues seriously and giving them the time they need to recover
- Praising or rewarding employees for exceptional work
- Offering internal promotions to employees based on merit and seniority before looking outside the organization
- Taking an interest in the personal lives of employees
This type of organizational altruism can have major benefits long term for an organization. However, some businesses still feel that the explicit promotion of workplace altruism is controversial and will result in negative outcomes for the company.
Why Is Workplace Altruism Controversial?
While there is no legitimate reason for managers and business owners to reject the promotion of workplace altruism, there are some reasons it can be considered controversial. Most of these reasons stem from an old-fashioned belief system that stipulates suffering on behalf of a company is not only a moral good but a duty. Proponents of this idea typically believe a workplace focused on altruism will create unproductive, lazy, and coddled staff.
While the example we give later in this piece will put that idea to rest, many still believe that if you aren’t tough on your workers, they will take advantage of you. This school of thought is responsible for a lot of toxic, but sadly common, ideas and expectations.
Here are some common examples.
- Discouraging the use of PTO or vacation time because “it’s a waste of time”
- Bothering employees on their vacation time because it’s their job
- Guilting employees for having family emergencies or attending family events because work is more important
- Refusing to promote or give raises to employees who fully take advantage of their benefits because they’re already costing too much money
- Expecting employees to work overtime very often or daily because “we all have to make sacrifices”
- Discouraging employees from speaking to one another because time is money
- Promoting unhealthy competition between employees or departments because it’s a “dog eat dog” world
- Holding the threat of termination over the heads of employees who establish clear boundaries because “they don’t care about the company”
- Encouraging managers to be demanding and difficult because “nice guys finish last”
- Discouraging lunch or bathroom breaks because employees aren’t “being paid to sit around”
- Allowing workplace bullying, including humiliation, gossip, or other cruel treatment because “everybody has to take their licks”
- Punishing workers for bringing their concerns to management because they’re “being difficult”
- Overloading employees with work because they’re told the company “doesn’t want to hire more staff”
While this work model is thankfully becoming an artifact of the past, many businesses still adhere to one or more of these toxic principles. But discouraging workplace altruism creates a negative company culture, lowers productivity, increases turnover, and promotes health problems in your staff. In comparison, an altruistic workplace provides benefits that supersede any possible concerns about straying from tradition.
Here is what the latest research shows.
Workplace Altruism Creates Healthier Employees.
Many business owners and managers never consider the health impact a negative work environment can have on employees. This may be because our culture typically promotes the idea that your emotions, brain, and body all function separately, and “stress” can be a good thing because it shows you are dedicated to your work.
This could not be further from the truth.
If you’ve ever gotten a stomachache before a big test at school or broken out in a cold sweat after watching a scary movie, then you know your emotions have a huge impact on your body, mind, and — by extension — your health. Now imagine the damage if you feel intense stress every day about going to work. The results can be (and often are) devastating.
In fact, several long-term health issues are associated with workplace stress:
- Health care costs are 50% higher at “high-pressure” companies than at other places of work.
- More than $500 billion and 550 million workdays are lost every year in the U.S. due to workplace stress.
- Between 60% and 80% of workplace accidents are due to stress while at work.
Additionally, workplace stress has been linked to several chronic illnesses including heart problems, metabolic syndrome, and stroke. One large study even found a correlation between a manager’s behavior and an employee’s likelihood of developing heart disease. In fact, employees who work in a stressful environment are 50% more likely to develop a cardiac illness than people who don’t.
That’s right. If you’re hiring mean-spirited managers or putting your employees in a high-pressure environment, then you could be contributing to future heart problems in your employees.
By contrast, workers in low-stress, healthy environments tend to have lower heart rates, lower blood pressure, and stronger immune systems. That means they spend less on health care, take less time off, and are more engaged while at work.
Workplace Altruism Fosters Trust In Management.
If you want to create a business that can sustain consistent growth, a great management team is a must. In fact, 70% of all differences in employee engagement can be attributed to management, so when we say a good manager can make or break a team, we mean it literally.
But what kind of manager is the best?
One brain image study showed that when participants were asked to recount experiences they had with a rude or uncaring boss, it activated the centers of the brain responsible for avoidance and negative emotion. By contrast, when they recalled experiences with a kind or supportive boss, it activated the centers of their brains responsible for cooperation and positive emotion.
In other words, if you like having distant, unengaged employees who can’t wait to leave your company, keep hiring jerk managers.
Research shows that when leaders are not only fair but also self-sacrificing, it motivates employees to become more committed and engaged. This type of leadership is known as “servant leadership,” and it can make a huge difference when it comes to boosting an organization’s overall ROI.
Here are some of the benefits:
- Retail employees with “servant leaders” for managers have 6% higher overall job performance.
- Stores run by “servant managers” are reported to have 8% better customer service.
- The employees of servant leaders are 50% less likely to leave an organization.
So, when it comes to building your management team, keep your eye out for “servant leaders.” They just might be the key to you supercharging your ROI and elevating your teams’ productivity to new heights.
Workplace Altruism Creates Engaged, Productive Employees.
Positive work cultures have also been shown to boost employee productivity, engagement, and overall performance. On average, happy employees are 12% more productive than their unhappy counterparts. They also tend to provide better customer service and have higher job satisfaction rates.
By contrast, disengaged and unhappy workers are prone to making more mistakes, have high rates of absenteeism, and have lower job performance. Here are some of the more shocking statistics.
Disengaged workers have 37% higher absenteeism rates than engaged workers, have 49% more accidents, and make 60% more errors than engaged workers. Likewise, companies with low employee engagement are 18% less productive, 16% less profitable, have 65% lower share prices over time, and experience 37% lower job growth. Ouch.
Workplace Altruism Reduces Turnover.
Your workplace culture has a huge impact on your ability to retain employees. Research shows stress in the workplace can account for an increase in workplace turnover of nearly 50%. That’s a big deal when you understand it costs about 20% of an employee’s salary for every staff member you have to replace. For a staff member making $40,000 annually, that amounts to almost $8,000.
Imagine if you have 10 employees with the same salary quit because you’ve allowed a toxic workplace environment to thrive. Now that’s $80,000 down the drain.
And with more and more staff members leaving after short stints at your company, that number is only going to grow over time. That’s a huge waste of time, money, and human capital — all because your staff doesn’t feel the need to treat each other with respect and compassion.
By contrast, employees who experience positive company culture are less likely to leave the organization. They report greater job satisfaction and show better job performance overall.
Workplace Altruism Attracts Better Employees.
Did you know employees prefer workplace well-being more than material benefits?
It’s true! In fact, 65% of employees report they would rather have a good boss than a raise. By extension, that means that having a company culture defined by altruism is a major selling point in the highly competitive job market. Showing you value your employees for the work they can do and for their value as human beings will attract strong candidates who will thrive in such an environment.
Another thing to consider is how your current employees talk about your company. With sites like Glassdoor and Indeed growing ever more popular, you want your former and current employees to report positive experiences while leaving reviews.
Now, it’s inevitable some people will be impossible to please and will leave negative feedback no matter what. But fostering an overall altruistic company culture will increase the likelihood that your employees will speak positively about your organization and potentially invite qualified candidates within their network to apply for open positions. This saves you the stress of having to search for them yourself. In fact, businesses with highly engaged employees receive 100% more job applications than other, less healthy organizations.
Promoting Workplace Altruism Is Just The Right Thing To Do.
If you’re like the majority of people (70%), then at some point, you have experienced a toxic work environment. These environments are typically characterized less by their productivity and more by the negative emotions they cause employees to feel every day. These tolerated slights can come in the form of office politics, workplace bullying, corrupt management, overly long work hours, lack of respect for employee boundaries, and more.
In other words, while these workplaces may define themselves by being “cutthroat” and “focused on work, not play,” they just create pointless misery for the employees. There is absolutely no reason these behaviors should persist, not merely because they inhibit productivity, but because they are rude, nasty, and unnecessary.
Nobody deserves to be treated that way for any reason.
All people desire to be treated with respect, and it is deeply wrong to allow people to feel sick coming in to work every day because they are afraid of being humiliated, belittled, or shunned. As a business owner, you aren’t fulfilling your moral obligations to your staff, your customers, and yourself if you tolerate such an environment. Plain and simple.
So, our final and most poignant point is this: Promoting an altruistic workplace is just the right thing to do.
So, please, do yourself and your staff a favor and make sure you encourage kindness, servant-leadership, and empathy in the workplace. Your employees, health care costs, and ROI will all be better because of it.