(No) Thanks for (Not) Giving at the Office | Selflessness at Work

“I gave at the office! ” That’s the put-off line used by many when asked for yet another donation to a charity, special cause, or fund-raiser. It’s a kind of cop out to stop the asking, whether we gave or not.

The reality is: There are many truly compelling reasons why we’re asked to contribute time and money to help people in dire trouble, some we may know and many we don’t.

We witnessed it in the 2012 devastation and loss of life caused by:

  • Hurricane Sandy on the east coast
  • Raging forest fires out west
  • Tornados in the mid-west
  • Relentless drought across the country

The news coverage connects us with the human misery, the disruption to people’s lives, and the unfathomable monetary and material loss. “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” we say to ourselves.

Many of us look for some way to help. We may send money through organizations like the American Red Cross or Salvation Army. We may hop on buses or get in our cars and go to lend a hand.

In a dramatic crisis, something in our hearts motivates us to help however we can.

Pain at the office

Our jobs can become increasingly demanding, so it’s easy to become absorbed in our own daily grind. We’re engrossed in meeting performance expectations, dealing the boss’s idiosyncrasies, struggling with changing work methods, and managing our time.

The truth is: Crises find their way into our offices. They may affect your work unit, the department, the company, or simply the coworker you sit next to.

It’s things like:

  • A new employee who 1.) no one talks to; 2.) is mistreated, 3.) makes mistakes, or 4.) struggles to master the work
  • A persistent conflict among coworkers who can’t find common ground on a work issue
  • A boss who alienates certain team members because s/he doesn’t understand how the work is done
  • A failed work process that caused customer outrage
  • A workplace accident resulting in the serious injury of several employees
  • An unexpected workload that must be completed asap to meet customer deadlines

The big question is: What are you prepared to do?

  • Will you wait until someone asks you to pitch in?
  • Will you lay low because you “don’t want to get your hands dirty?”
  • Will you  step up and offer your ideas, expertise, time, and/or leadership?

When trouble comes to your office, there’s an opportunity to “give” of yourself because it’s the right thing to do.

Selflessness is part courage.

Crises are relative. A crisis to you may or may not be a crisis to me. It just matters that when people feel that the situations they’re in are more than they can handle, you have an opportunity to offer help.

Crises manifest confusion. Leadership promises to restore order. Your selfless entry into a crisis of any dimension is a willingness to address that confusion and quell some of it.

As with any disaster, we need to give what we know we can. It’s not about over-extending or over-reaching.

At work you can:

  • Help that struggling coworker by showing them how to avoid errors or helping them build friendships
  • Offer an idea that will help conflicting parties reach a compromise
  • Talk to the boss about his/her work knowledge if you have the right kind of relationship with him/her
  • Provide an idea that will help fix that failed customer process
  • Suggest a change in safety procedures
  • Work extra hours to meet that surprise workload

That’s how you “give at the office” when things get dicey. It’s about you thinking more about someone else than about yourself.

Thanks giving

Getting in the habit of giving selflessly at work and in the community enriches us. It’s a habit that builds on itself. The more we do, the easier it gets.

When we recognize the value of those opportunities to give, the “thanks giving” comes from within us. In many cases, “ thanks getting” will follow.

Photo from paperbacklou via Flickr

Help Giver or Help Seeker? Let Gratitude Fuel the Ride

I’ve always been at odds with the adage: “Good guys (and gals) always finish last.” It implies that being a team player, going the extra mile, or helping coworkers is a negative career strategy.

Often we’re warned that if we’re too generous with our time and talents at work, we’ll get taken advantage of. Well, maybe, but it’s worth the risk.

Most of us lend a hand because we:

  • Can’t help ourselves; it’s how we’re wired, raised, or compelled
  • Can put our knowledge and skills to good use
  • Care about the person or group in need
  • Enjoy collaborating, teamwork, and a new challenge

Our initial desire to help doesn’t usually consider the downside. We step up because it feels good.

The double-edged sword

Helping goes two ways: we give it one day and need it the next. We may go for long periods without needing help, but we’re pretty sure our time will come.

I’m as guilty as the next for resisting offers of help for reasons like:

  • I don’t want to be a bother
  • My need isn’t that important
  • I think I can take care of it myself (when I really can’t)
  • I’ll wait for something “really big” down the road

So I refrain from asking when I should, even when others are offering help.

At the same time, I’m eager to help someone else. I love nothing more than frantic phone calls from friends and clients who have some new craziness at work to figure out. This gives me a chance to provide help as a gift, my act of gratitude for their confidence and friendship.

Counted on or counted out

To help and be helped bind us. At work we need each other to:

  • Get the work done
  • Avoid being blindsided
  • Build our knowledge and skills
  • Create and innovate

We need coworkers we can count on and they need us too.

The other day I was thinking about the “helpers-in-waiting” in my life. These are the professionals I can call anytime with a question or a problem–special people who know who I am and care sincerely about helping me like my attorney, my accountant, my computer specialist, my personal physician, and my large and small animal veterinarians.

These aren’t people I talk to every day or month or year, but when I need them, I really do and  pronto. They don’t have to drop everything when I call, but most of the time they do. That raises my gratitude level and they know it.

A help-seeker’s gratitude expands when the help giver:

  • Acknowledges the need and responds quickly
  • Does a thorough job done and gives sound advice
  • Is fair and trustworthy
  • Communicates information and answers questions clearly
  • Takes a warm, pleasant approach and even shows a sense of humor

The help-giver’s gratitude comes from the help seeker’s:

In a business environment, no one is obligated to provide selfless help just because someone is paying for services. I know plenty of highly paid individuals who don’t provide help that generates gratitude. In too many cases, their help creates resentment.

Be kind, be helpful

In my view, the good guys and gals finish first. They attract a community of like-minded people who help because they want to, promoting a spirit of gratitude that is contagious.

Each day we need to reach out to others while expressing thanks to those helping us, in even the smallest ways. Recognize helpfulness in an email, a voice mail, a word in passing, a greeting card, an invitation to lunch, a “how are you doing” inquiry, or an offer of support. Gratitude costs nothing and makes a big difference.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and other post posts here. Believe me, I am enormously grateful for your interest, your comments, and your support.

Photo from smiles 7 via Flickr

Does Thanks-Getting Bring Out Your Inner Turkey or Peacock?

I love Thanksgiving because gratitude is such good medicine. We just need more than one day a year to get in the zone! 

My dad always told me, “When I give, I expect nothing in return, not even a ‘thank you.’ I give because I want to, for my reasons, because it feels good.” 

I have tried to follow my dad’s credo, but sometimes giving thanks is easier than getting it. 

The “thank you” as gift 

A “thank you” is recognition.  It comes in many forms, especially at work, and sometimes we fumble with what to say in response. 

Consider these “thanks-getting” scenarios. Which phrase sounds like something you would say?   

1. Your boss singles you out at a staff meeting and praises your cost analysis. 

  • It really wasn’t that hard. Anyone here could have worked up those numbers.
  • I really enjoyed the assignment and am happy my analysis is useful. 

2. A coworker compliments your “look” for a presentation you’re about to give. 

  • I hate being the center of attention for these talks, so I just grabbed something I wore at my job interview.
  • Your compliment really makes me feel better. I was unsure about how to dress for this occasion.  

3. A peer in another department recognizes your consistent willingness to find middle ground to get things done. 

  • It’s no big deal. I just can’t stand to see projects stall.
  • It’s very nice of you to notice my efforts. I like to help things move forward. 

4. Your team gets together to salute you for organizing the MS charity walk and the amount you personally contributed. 

  • It was really all of you that made the event successful. Everyone contributed as much as they could, so this salute shouldn’t be about me.
  • You’ve really touched me today. I never expected this from you. I will never forget this moment. Thank you. 

5. A coworker new to your department picks up the check at lunch to show his/her appreciation for the support you gave during his/her transition. 

  • I can’t let you do this. There was nothing special about the help I gave you. Please let’s just split the check.
  • This is such a surprise. I was happy to help you get acclimated to our department and appreciate having you as a colleague. Thanks. 

I know I was a “turkey” when my responses to  “thank yous” sounded like those italicized lines. We often say them because we feel awkward or undeserving of the thanks we’re being given.  

We need to get over that. Why? Because it’s right to experience a moment of “peacock” pride when someone acknowledges something good about us. 

Thanks-getting circles back! 

To deflect, side-step, or discount someone’s words of gratitude is the same as rejecting them. 

It’s time to stop fighting it. You do nice things just as others do. For every “thank you” you give, there is someone who’s got one ready for you. When we deflect the thanks-giving gestures of others, we discourage the culture of gratitude that we so desperately need, especially at work. 

Every time we accept a “thank you,” we turn it into a gift back to the giver. 

It’s not for us to decide whether or not we’re worthy of someone’s gratitude. It’s their gift to us. Our obligation is to accept their “thanks” graciously. 

So now it’s my turn:  

I am so grateful for the heartfelt support you’ve given me. You’ve touched me by reading my posts and thinking about the ideas I share. I’m heartened when you talk to me through your comments here, on Facebook and Twitter, and in person. I’m so fortunate to be able to give and get so much through this blog. You have enriched me in so many ways. Thank you. 

What have been your experiences with “thanks-getting?” How can we all get better at it? I love hearing from you!