Personal Development
What Is Altruism (and Is It Important at Work)?

What Is Altruism (and Is It Important at Work)?

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Defining and Exploring Altruism

Altruism is a form of unselfish behavior in which an action is taken with the intention of benefitting another individual. It is a goal-oriented, motivated act of kindness that does not stem from obligation but from a genuine concern for another's welfare. There are four distinct types of altruism which have different motivations.

Types of Altruism

The four main kinds of altruism are:

  • Reciprocal Altruism: An act of generosity with the expectation that it will be returned in the future.
  • Genetic Altruism (or Nepotistic Altruism): Actions intended to benefit family members.
  • Pure Altruism (or Moral Altruism): Helping others without expecting anything in return, even when there may be great risk involved.
  • Group-Selected Altruism: Altruism that centers around a particular group affiliation.

Explaining Human Altruism

A range of explanations have been put forward as the main motivating factor for altruism in human beings, from a sense of morality and generosity, to compassion and empathy, as well as the contagiousness of modeling altruism. In the 1960s, W.D. Hamilton theorized that people are more likely to show altruism towards those with whom they are genetically related. This theory of 'kin selection' suggests that altruism is part-instinctual, as it increases the chances of gene transmission. This idea has been observed to be true in both humans and animals, such as meerkats, who participate in activities such as babysitting, feeding offspring, and helping build shared burrows.

The Warm Glow Effect

The notion of 'true altruism' initially appears to be the epitome of selflessness, as there is no expectation of receiving something in return. But, the warm glow effect suggests that ultimate self-satisfaction is the root cause of altruism. This branch of behavioral economics asserts that any form of altruism is driven by a self-centered desire to experience the pleasure of helping someone else. Consequently, selflessness and selfishness are not mutually exclusive, as scientific studies have proven that giving activates pleasure centers in the brain. Therefore, even if one is not outwardly expecting reciprocity, the reward of seeing another person's reaction to your generosity is what serves as the primary underlying motivation.

What is Healthy Selfishness?

The idea of selfishness has acquired an overall negative connotation, but that might be a matter of semantics. Healthy selfishness does not refer to acting in one's own self-interest alone--it instead means prioritizing one's own emotional and physical well-being. A prime example of this is when putting on an oxygen mask when on an airplane, a necessity before helping others with theirs. Generally, individuals can be classified as either people-pleasers or overly self-focused, and healthy selfishness is a balance between these two extremes. When taken in context, taking care of basic needs like food and rest serves as an act of self-love that is also beneficial to everyone around you, making you healthier and better-rested.

Why is Altruism Important?

Altruism is not merely a passing trend. According to Bryant P.H. Hui, Ph.D. of the American Psychological Association, it is a "necessary ingredient of a harmonious and well-functioning society." Generosity can also lead to improved physical and mental health. Moreover, research has shown that altruistic behavior is linked to enhanced eudaimonic well-being, which is the emotional fulfillment that comes from finding meaning in life, self-actualization, and self-awareness. It is also more common among younger and female givers.

How Can Altruism be Beneficial at Work?

Altruism can provide more than just emotional reward--it can also provide advantages to companies. The four main ways it can be advantageous in the workplace are:

  • Improves morale--when colleagues help each other, it can make everyone feel appreciated.
  • Enhances teamwork--collaboration between employees results in stronger working relationships.
  • Encourages collaboration--team members who are generous with each other are likely to create ideas and solutions.
  • Bolsters loyalty--generosity from one employee to another can lead to a deeper commitment to the company.

The Benefits of Altruism In The Workplace

In addition to inspiring quality in the workplace, altruism can also benefit employees on a personal level. One study found that assisting colleagues can make people happier, partly due to the satisfaction of giving and partly due to the increase in endorphins called the “helper's high” which can help reduce stress. Moreover, altruism can also provide intrinsic motivation, connecting us to something greater than ourselves. Altogether, healthy selfishness and altruism work hand in hand--self-care is necessary to be able to be generous to those around you and kindness can help create a better world.

What is Workplace Altruism?

Workplace altruism occurs when people in a work environment treat each other with kindness and compassion. This behavior can lead to increased productivity because employees will feel happier and more supported, resulting in fewer absences and lower costs for the company.

Signs of Altruism in the Workplace

Altruism can manifest itself in a variety of ways in the workplace. Here are some examples:

  • Putting others first ‚Äì defending a colleague who is being bullied.
  • Making sacrifices ‚Äì spending time and money to assist others.
  • Anticipating needs ‚Äì allowing a team member to leave early to be with a sick child.
  • Providing support ‚Äì helping a new colleague with a daunting project.
  • Forgiving others ‚Äì letting go of grudges and disagreements.
  • Considering the consequences ‚Äì understanding how your decisions might negatively affect others.
  • Acting selflessly ‚Äì helping a colleague without expecting anything in return.
  • Valuing well-being ‚Äì including vegan and gluten-free options at a company gathering.

How To Cultivate Altruism

To foster altruistic values, it is helpful to prioritze gratitude, empathy, and social justice. Additionally, it is important to identify and work to address needs in your community.

Fostering Altruism In Others

To help others cultivate altruistic behaviors, you can set an example for them. Share stories of altruism, create a supportive network, promote acceptance and inclusivity, post about the importance of altruism on social media, and participate in charitable activities in the workplace.

Potential Downsides of Altruism

Although altruism can bring about many positive results, it can also have its drawbacks. It may strain personal resources since it often requires sacrificing one's own interests and needs. It can also create tension if it affects the giver's family, and expose individuals to dangerous situations. Therefore, it is essential to practice healthy selfishness and to remember to balance giving and taking. Altruistic punishment is an example of an instance in which altruism can be used to benefit others, even if it is costly for the person giving the punishment.


Altruism is a complex phenomenon that can have positive or negative outcomes depending on the situation. It is important to promote kindness and compassion, but it is also crucial to keep an eye on your own needs and boundaries. When done responsibly, altruism can benefit individuals and organizations alike.

Balancing Altruism with Self-Care

Speaking up can often lead to a more positive outcome for everyone. Even if you receive some kind of �punishment� you can still benefit from the situation. Altruism is a great quality, but it is important to make sure that you are taking care of yourself too.

Finding a Healthy Balance with Wellness Coaching

Wellness coaching is a type of evidence-based practice that encourages individuals to reach their personal health goals. A wellness coach can create a plan that allows you to practice healthy and sustainable altruism while still taking care of yourself.

Practicing Radical Acceptance

This year has been full of challenges that have forced us to adjust our routines. Radical acceptance means entirely and unconditionally accepting our circumstances.When we practice radical acceptance, we can accept our current situations and move forward.

Understanding Men's Mental Health

Men's mental health is an important subject that isn't discussed as openly as it should be. Being able to identify and discuss emotions is more important than giving off a tough exterior. Men should be encouraged to reach out for help when needed.

Mental Health Awareness and Conversations

It is important to make an effort to talk openly about mental health. Doing so can encourage those who are struggling to reach out and know that they are not alone. Initiating conversations about mental health can help to normalize it and combat the stigma.

Altruism for a Better World

Altruism can make the world a better place. In order to practice altruism in the best way possible, it is important to find the right balance between looking after ourselves and helping others. Understanding the importance of self-care, radical acceptance, men's mental health, and mental health awareness will help you to achieve healthy and sustainable altruism.

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