In Culture, Work Life

Most of the people who tend to be drawn to Givitas and to the work of Adam Grant and Wayne Baker tend to be givers who want to empower and enable their teams to be more generous with each other while also creating a safe space to ask for help. It’s true that a lot of teams use Givitas just for increased efficiency and productivity, but the vast majority of leaders who are offering Givitas to their teams really believe that generosity is an important corporate value.

That also means these people are givers themselves, as leaders, they have a lot of expertise and experience to offer, and they are at the greatest risk of giver burnout.

I heard Adam talking to ABC’s Dan Harris about this phenomenon on a recent episode of 10% Happier, and it led me to do a little more research into the subject.

The conventional wisdom is that if you give too much (at work or in your personal life), you will burn out. Adam says that is completely true if you give in a way that is totally selfless or self-sacrificing, putting everyone else in your life ahead of yourself without any regard for your own time and energy.

In an article in Harvard Business Review on beating generosity burnout, Adam and Reb Rebele offer these definitions:

Self-Protective Givers are are generous, but they know their limits. Instead of saying yes to every help request, they look for high-impact, low-cost ways of giving so that they can sustain their generosity — and enjoy it along the way.

Selfless Givers have high concern for others but low concern for themselves. They set few or no boundaries, which makes them especially vulnerable to takers. By ignoring their own needs, they exhaust themselves and, paradoxically, end up helping others less.

If you can find ways to give that are beneficial to you and to other people without being costly in terms of energy, you’re actually happier and more successful. In fact, givers who can solve this puzzle actually end up with more energy than matchers and takers because of the “helper’s high” or the “warm glow of giving.”

Here are 10 ways to avoid giver burnout:

  1. Figure out where you have to offer that is unique and meaningful. If you are an excellent writer, don’t agree to teach someone how to use Excel macros just because you know how to do it–that’s something they can probably get from a lot of other people and doesn’t play to your unique strengths.
  2. Set boundaries. According to Adam Grant and Reb Rebelle, “across industries the people who make the most sustainable contributions to organizations (those who offer the most direct support, take the most initiative, and make the best suggestions) protect their time so that they can work on their own goals too.”
  3. Consider helping proactively instead of reactively. This can be a form of boundary setting, and can be energizing instead of depleting. If someone asks you to read their book but you don’t have time to do it, you could offer to introduce them to someone who does. You’re still helping by making the connection, but you’re protecting your time.
  4. Scale and amplify your help when possible. If you get dozens of requests a week for a particular kind of help, consider setting up a Google hangout to offer the help to everyone at once. If you frequently get the same kinds of questions, you could create a FAQ document to share, or ask someone you help to pay it forward by willing to share what they learned from you.
  5. Beware scope creep. One of the most draining kinds of helping is when what you thought was a one-time thing becomes a regular commitment. So be clear up front about the scope of your time and abilities.
  6. Embrace the five-minute favor. When someone asks for help, can you get them close to their goal in 5 minutes or less by referring them to a person, article, or other resource that might be of use to them?
  7. Chunk your help into blocks of several five-minute favors. You’ll feel more impact and greater satisfaction if you do five favors one day a week instead of one small favor every day.
  8. Prioritize your commitments. Adam shares that his order of priority is family, then students, then colleagues, then everyone else. Having that internal hierarchy helps him know when to say yes and when to say no.
  9. Watch out for takers. As a giver, you may or may not have great “taker” radar, but learn to spot the people who will drain you without paying it forward.
  10. Look for other symptoms of burnout (increased stress, resentment, frustration, etc. Consider resentment especially carefully. Will you resent the person or the project if you say yes to a request for help? If so, consider saying no. The expectation of resentment is a good signal that you’re getting burned out.

One thing Adam said in the podcast that really resonated, “Every ‘no’ is a chance to say yes when it matters more.”

Take our free quiz, “What Kind of Giver Are You at Work?” to see what kinds of help you currently offer and whether there might be other kinds of assistance that are easier, quicker, or less draining.  Let us know how it goes!

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