The Secret to Productivity and Happiness at Work: Xtreme Generosity

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The other day I received an email from a complete stranger, asking for advice on a business plan: “Dear Mr. Wood," he blurted forth. "I saw your name blah blah blah and I have this wonderful idea blah blah could you please take some time to review and give me feedback blah blah.”

Like most of you, I am quite busy and under intense pressure at work. As a result, I have become fairly adept at a handy management trick known as filtering, which, in plain English, loosely translates to, “blowing off loser requests that do not further my own productivity.”

Seriously, if I entertained every intrusion from out of the blue, there wouldn’t be much time left to do what’s important. Would there?

Not so, according to Adam Grant.

Grant is the youngest tenured, highest-rated professor at Wharton School of Business and author of, “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.” His research says the secret to both happiness and productivity at work is in giving back to people.

Grant’s work in the field of organizational pyschology and workplace dynamics focuses on how companies can get the most out of their employees and how employees can get the most out of their jobs. The common denominator in this equation is, strangely enough, the ability to frame every task as an opportunity to help others.

Those of us in management may look slightly askance at this theory of helpfulness and kindness as a means of becoming more successful. It sounds a bit counter-intuitive, perhaps even a little whacky in the ultra-competitive arena of zero-sum outcomes. Spiritually speaking, however, it makes all the sense in the world in terms of viewing our work as an opportunity to serve others.Our work is not about us, after all, but about God working through us. As Christians, this subtle but monumental shift changes everything.

Grant views opportunities for being helpful as a source of creativity, a means of generating additional energy and productivity. In fact, he has compiled a large body of evidence that says the greatest untapped source of workforce motivation is not financial incentives or career advancement, but a sense of service to others.

Isn’t it nice to know our faith-at-work concepts are backed up by hard research?

Think about it: that annoying co-worker’s request suddenly becomes an opportunity to improve his day. The customer service call is now a brainstorming session to solve a pesky problem. The boring meeting is now a window to lighten up a dreary afternoon.

“I never get much done when I frame the 300 e-mails as ‘answering e-mails,’ ” Grant says in a New York Times interview. “I have to look at it as, How is this task going to benefit the recipient?”

So when you arrive at work tomorrow, rather than getting deep-fried in the corporate pressure cooker, think of your every task as an opportunity to make someone’s life better, whether it is your co-workers, your customers, your shareholders, or your boss. In turn, you will feel happier, you will be more productive, and, who knows? Maybe you’ll get promoted, too.

Well, all right, the research didn’t go that far.

The point is, there’s no need to hoard your talents. The pie is unlimited. Let go. Take the time to care for others, and God will take care of you.

As for my annoying email intruder, instead of packing up to go home at the end of the day, I decided to take a few extra minutes to craft a helpful response. As I was leaving the office, I thought, “What a great way to end the day.”

Post by J.B. Wood, Author of "At Work as it is in Heaven: 25 Ways to Re-imagine the Spiritual Value of Your Work."