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Do Workplace Givers Finish Last?



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Successful people are typically viewed as possessing certain characteristics: high motivation, strong skills/abilities, and opportunity. In his book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, Adam Grant says there is another component to success and that’s how you approach relationships.

In interactions with others, are you likely to give more than you get? Or do you believe that you have to look out for yourself first  so you make sure you get more than you give?

Outside the workplace, in personal relationships, most people behave like givers. With family and friends they don’t keep track of who gives what. But in the workplace, givers are rare. Givers are generous with their time, knowledge, and connections. They don’t think about the personal costs and help without expecting anything in return. Takers help others strategically, when the benefits to them outweigh the personal costs. There’s also a group of people called matchers. They attempt to keep an equal balance of giving and getting. They want fairness. They help others but expect reciprocity.

The lines between giving, taking and matching aren’t hard and fast. You may find yourself acting like a giver when mentoring an intern, a taker when bidding for a project and a matcher when exchanging ideas with a colleague.  But overall, the vast majority of people adopt a primary style of interacting most of the time.

The Style Most Likely to Be at the Bottom of the Success Ladder

Which style is most likely to result in success at work? You might guess that givers would be at the bottom of the success measures. You would be right. Across occupations, givers are just too caring and too trusting and too willing to sacrifice their own interests.  There’s evidence that compared with takers, givers earn 14 percent less money, have twice the risk of becoming a victim of a crime and are judged as 22 percent less powerful and dominant.

The Style Most Likely To Reach the Top

So what style do the people at the top of the success ladder have? They are  also givers. The best performers and the worst performers are givers; takers and matchers are  more likely to land in the middle.  The givers at the top of the ladder have strong interests in helping others and get satisfication from making an impact in that way.  They score high on measures of  caring about others.The difference between the givers who were top performers and the givers who are the lowest performers is that the givers at the top also had strong self-interests. They were ambitious as well as giving.  Self-interest and other interest are not mutually exclusive but two different characteristics.

The emotionally sensitive often have difficulty with balance and tend to  extremes. This can translate into being extreme givers, takers, and matchers. Extremes usually lead to misery.  Having both self-interests and other-interests would seem to create a balance that would lessen suffering as well as lead to more success in career goals.


Photo credit:  Peter Hayes via Compfight

Do Workplace Givers Finish Last?

Karyn Hall, PhD

Karyn Hall, Ph.D. is the owner/director of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Center in Houston, a DBT-Linehan Board of Certification, Certified Clinician, a RO DBT Approved Supervisor and Trainer and owner of, an online educational program. She is a trainer/consultant as well as a therapist and certified coach, author of The Emotionally Sensitive Person, SAVVY, Mindfulness Exercises for DBT Therapists, and co-author of The Power of Validation. Her podcast, The Emotionally Sensitive Person, is available on iTunes.

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APA Reference
Hall, K. (2013). Do Workplace Givers Finish Last?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 May 2013
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