The problem with givers is that Darwin saw them as a threat to evolution. He could not explain why their altruistic trait would survive a battle of the fittest. Others have sought to explain it since then. Their answers have lessons for assessing talent at work.
The Giving Gene
We have long held altruism such as self-sacrifice as divine. It is something higher beings learn to do. We have learned though there is a genetic aspect. The article, “Right On!” (The Economist, September 20, 2014 edition), tells about this. It tells of altruism in animals even insects.
We are also learning where giving occurs in the brain. Sam Kean’s “The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Giving” (The Atlantic, May 2015 edition) talks about giving as a compulsion. In the extreme, both articles describe such a state as the opposite of psychopathy.
Givers at Work
How does this connect to work? The answer lies in how evolutionists have resolved the existence between self-interest and altruism:
- Selfishness beats altruism within groups.
- Altruistic groups beat selfish groups.
Translating this to work we get:
- Selfish people perform better than givers at work
- Firms perform better when employees help each other
Problem with Givers
The problem with givers at work then is that they give so much of themselves that their own work suffers. The help they give might not fit well into their MBO’s. Their help though makes the group better.
For example, sales people who spend their time helping others could suffer poor sales. Yet, the people they help could have very good sales. This holds true for many jobs. It is even more so with the rise of on-the-job training.
The End Game for Givers
The problem with givers at work then is that they help others regardless of their MBO’s. When givers give, there is often a strong rise in areas of the brain associated with food, sex and drugs. The man in the above article gave everything away. He was very happy though.
For firms though, letting go of givers because of their poor results could be early signs of their demise. Self-interested people cannot survive without givers. They must take from someone.
History shows that mercenaries lose to patriotic armies. Patriots sacrifice for others. They are givers. Which is your firm?