Reciprocal Altruism and Productivity

According to this, workers who do favors at work are more productive.

Francis Flynn, of Columbia University's business school, studied 161 engineers working for a telecoms firm near San Francisco. They work in eight teams, but each individually sorts out detailed engineering problems sent in from around the country. Mr Flynn asked each employee to report how often they swapped help with each member of the team—help such as technical advice or taking a second look at a recommended solution—and who, in each case, had given relatively more in their exchanges. Thus, he looked separately at the frequency with which individual workers made such swaps and at how one-sidedly generous they were. He also asked employees to rate how highly they regarded one another.

Mr Flynn correlated the answers he got with information from the firm on employees' productivity. He found that generous employees who get little in exchange are well-regarded by colleagues. Employees who helped colleagues generously but did not receive help in exchange were less productive. Those who receive as well as give were relatively more productive, particularly those who helped each other most often. A pattern of frequent giving and receiving boosted both productivity and social standing.

The conclusions given in the article are correct, but they miss a deeper point. Humans evolved to act this way. Reciprocal altruism is part of our nature. Businesses should embrace that and use it to their advantage by structuring a work environment that encourages such behavior.

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