Altruism and Organizational Health

By: Tracy Simmons, Sea Account Program Manager

“Not my job.” A co-worker of mine uttered those words to me nearly 20 years ago and they have been indelibly etched into my memory ever since. The co-worker was happily reminding me that their role at the company had recently changed which absolved their obligation to assist me. Hopefully, that sounds as absurd to you as it did (does) to me, but I bet each reader can recall an instance when something similar has happened to them, or maybe they too have been guilty of similar behavior. Although this is an extreme example, even minor instances can drag down an organization, when taken in aggregate. Whether it’s a small team or a large corporation; the effects are similar to both the individual and the group. When folks are helpful or altruistic, things work better. When you refill the water in the coffee machine, make extra copies of a meeting agenda, arrive on time, hold the door for a co-worker that has their hands full, or help with a task that isn’t part of your normal job description, you are acting as a small but integral part of making your organization better. What’s more, setting this example increases the likelihood of others following in your tracks.

Altruism essentially means to display behaviors independent of personal benefit. A sense of community develops when folks within an organization work together; and, the individual, team, and organization all strengthen as a result. Altruistic actions must be part of the corporate culture; encouraging kind, helpful behavior from each employee begins with established corporate mechanisms. When altruism is consistently practiced by employees and regularly applied to corporate policy, the organization and its employees will benefit.

When an organization and its employees practice helpful behavior, a host of other “good citizen” behaviors tends to follow such as enthusiastic involvement in societal concerns. One clear example is VectorCSP’s initiative to “give back to our community.” Making direct, positive impacts in the communities we work in has always been one of our core values. My personal experience with being involved in our annual school paper drive in Elizabeth City and in our Wreaths Across America initiative in Baltimore helped me appreciate the principle of altruism. Vector personnel aren’t just helping our neighbors when we participate in these programs; we are putting “skin in the game” and working as a team. We are strengthening our bonds and building trust. This altruism always spills over into the workplace and confirms my belief that when VectorCSP, an organization that I am part of, acts with altruism in the community, then I should act with altruism in my community and the workplace as well. Additionally, organizational concern extends to day–to-day business activities like being part of proposal efforts and all-hands meetings but also to much larger things like defending company policy or actions when necessary (and ethically proper).

I absolutely believe that my actions directly impact folks on my Team of Teams; they pass that on to their teammates and the cumulative effect compounds over time. My hope is that we all practice being caring, helpful, courteous, constructive, and flexible with our fellow co-workers and that we involve ourselves in the concerns of our organizations as well. Personal, professional, and organizational growth is the natural output and we can expect a healthy workplace to greet us each morning. My questions are: “As individuals, are we altruistic or are we just at our jobs for our own self-advancement?” and “Do the organizations we work in practice the altruistic core values to which they subscribe or have they even established the core values to help steer the moral compass that impacts decision and policy making?”

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