The Profound Impact of Philanthropy (Love of Humanity) in the Workplace

By Marc Hardy, Ph.D.

In the beginning, philanthropy was not about giving money. It was about empowering others to create better lives. The origin of the word “philanthropy” comes from the Greek myth of Prometheus. Prometheus saved humanity by returning fire to the mortals that was taken away by Zeus. This act was an act of “philanthropia,” or love of humanity. In essence, he gave people the tool of fire so that they could survive and thrive, so that they could create a better life. As leaders and co-workers, we can also give people tools to create better professional and personal lives. We only need show our love of humanity and our compassion for others. We need to show we care.

Most of us spend at least half of our waking hours at work soaking up whatever positive or negative culture we encounter. And that affects how we feel and interact in our personal lives when we are thinking about the upcoming day or after we return home. It permeates who we are and how we interact with our family and friends. So it makes sense that incorporating acts of philanthropy toward our colleagues and employees can not only put people in a positive frame of mind, it also encourages them to be more creative, innovative, and productive. And that goodwill ripples out into their families and communities, creating a more compassionate, understanding world.

The model of leadership and workplace culture that we still all too often encounter has been passed down from the industrial age, where people were just thought of as labor to get things done. It was a very transactional philosophy, and respectful, caring relationships with employees were discouraged. Too much closeness and familiarity was bad for business, and definite lines were drawn between our personal and work lives. But the world has rapidly changed and people are looking for more than a paycheck. They are seeking organizations that care about them as individuals, not as just cogs in a wheel. They want their work lives to having meaning and their organizations to contribute to the greater good.

How to Use Philanthropy to have a Profound Effect on People in Your Organization

1. Think of them as family.

In his book Everybody Matters, CEO Bob Chapman of Barry-Wehmiller suggests that as we interact with our colleagues we should ask “how would we want someone to treat our daughter or son? Our husband or wife? Are we committed to the kinds of respectful, positive relationships at work that we would want for our friends and families?” If we think of others in this way, the way we treat them will be transformed and their mental and emotional well-being will be dramatically increased.

2. Get to know them by name.

I once worked for an incredible CEO who had over 700 employees. He took great care of them financially and his turnover was low and their loyalty to the company was high. But what the employees respected and valued the most was that he knew all of his 700 employees by name, as well as their family members. He often said to me, “People will pretty much live up to your expectations of them if they know you genuinely care.” Have a hard time remembering names? Get The Memory Book by Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas, it is worth its weight in gold!

3. Make honesty safe and build trust.

If people in your organization do not feel comfortable being honest, it will cost the organization. If leaders and colleagues let their egos intimidate others, important information will not be shared and trust will diminish. When trust is corroded, all things grind along more slowly. In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M. R. Covey states “Trust impacts us 24/7, 365 days a year. It undergirds and affects the quality of every relationship, every communication, every work project, every business venture, every effort in which we are engaged. It changes the quality of every present moment and alters the trajectory and outcome of every future moment of our lives – both personally and professionally.”

A philanthropic approach to leadership and work relationships works because the mere act is a gift. It is given without expectation of return in the faith that being a caring person has its own rewards. Respect and loyalty from others are only a few, but even more importantly our efforts to incorporate the “love of humanity” into our workplaces is rare. And this rarity is what motivates people to be the best they can be, while attracting others who want to work and support such a positive organizational culture. In short, we want the place where we spend half of our waking hours to be meaningful, productive and enjoyable. Let’s give others what we yearn for ourselves.

Marc Hardy, Ph.D. is the Director of Nonprofit Certificate Education in the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame. He is also a speaker and author of the “Leadership Through Sharing Fire” concept (www.SharingFire.com). He may be contacted at DrMarc@SharingFire.com.

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