[Prospective] Cooperation and gift

The Economist about why workers who do favours are more productive.

IS GENEROSITY good for you? At work, at least, the answer may be yes. There, says a recent article in the Academy of Management Journal, productivity rises when workers help each other more. Francis Flynn, of Columbia University's business school, studied 161 engineers working for a telecoms firm near San Francisco. 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.

Why should productivity rise when employees frequently swap help? Mr Flynn has two explanations. First, as employees learn more about the resources they can offer each other, they develop a more efficient pattern of requesting and giving help. Second, helpful employees learn to trust each other more, and so become willing to do bigger favours because they feel more sure about the likelihood of reciprocation. And, of course, it is nicer to work with helpful people than with the other sort.

I definitely believe in this gift relationship.