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Do ‘Good People’ = Good Workers?

Purposeful people – real added value in the workplace? Or just an identity myth for social networks? 

Tell people you work with, especially those you do not know so well, that you are interested in doing good, helping others, standing up for those less fortunate than you, being a global citizen or just caring about something other than yourself, and you might not always be met with a big “Me Too!” You may well be met with a curious side-look, suspicion, or even, in the worst cases, derision. An odd response perhaps to someone seeking to improve the world they live in – but a very human one it seems.

At Work For Impact we fundamentally believe in supporting people’s ability to make the world a better place through their work – which is why we’ve spent the last 2 years building the first purpose-powered, BCorp-certified On-Demand Talent platform to exclusively connect those purposeful people with the kinds of For Purpose, NFP and Mission led organisations focused on creating positive impact in the world. 

But not everyone seems to agree   

The real value of being a more conscious human being, a more purposeful one, with a wish to serve something other than just yourself seems to make many people nervous. There is something they do not quite trust in those with deeply altruistic sensibilities. Why is that?

Some say it is generational – with older more conservative types reacting against what they see as the soft liberalism of youth and lack of life experience. Certainly, there are conflicting views on the value of what’s seen dismissively by some as Millennial activism within the workplace – with a rising tide of pushback against what are seen as ineffectual Inclusion & Diversity and Gender Identity initiatives. In some organisations, these initiatives are starting to be seen as counter-productive at best and tyrannical at worst. And in her book,  Outraged: Why everyone is shouting and no one is talking Ashley Dotty Charles, a journalist who identifies as ‘black lesbian’, explores the facts and fiction of the whole clicktivism, social networked tsunami of righteousness and virtue signalling – and it comes in for quite a beating.

Others say it is cultural – with the marked differences between how certain cultures and societies view the value of human life and of our environment over others lying at the heart of the stuttering global responses to everything from Poverty and Climate Change and Black Lives Matter to Gender emancipation. A quick look across the dimensions of human rights, poverty indexes, stats of infant and maternal mortality, lack of labour opportunity and labour rights abuses, and you may quickly assume it is. 

In a study by Adrian V. Bell and colleagues from the University of California Davis in the Oct. 12 edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences entitles ‘Culture Is More Important Than Genes To Altruistic Behavior In Large-scale Societies’ they had this at the very top of their abstract:

Socially learned behaviour and belief are much better candidates than genetics to explain the self-sacrificing behaviour we see among strangers in societies, from soldiers to blood donors to those who contribute to food banks.

So societies are definitely more or less culturally predisposed to value acts of compassion altruism and philanthropy in very different ways  – and even then the true value of that philanthropy can be not quite what it seems [taking the toxic use of supposed Apolitical Philanthropic Foundations and Think Tanks in the US busily propagandizing extreme realpolitik]. 

Generally, there is certainly a skeptical behaviour known to psychologists as ‘do-gooder derogation’ rooted in evolutionary reasons for why unreciprocated altruism makes many humans uncomfortable. 

Many books, articles and publications seem to promote and propagandise one worldview or another. 

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins for example applies the biological imperative of our nature from the gene outwards – as the defining characteristics of our humanity. For many less convinced by ‘altruism’ and compassion-based society, this presents a clear clean theory uncluttered by ‘soft’ social and anthropological noise that focuses on the ‘group’ theories. 

Take the philosopher’s-eye-view and we get into the really shaky ground as this extract from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy sets out:

According to a doctrine called “psychological egoism”, all human action is ultimately motivated by self-interest. The psychological egoist can agree with the idea, endorsed by common sense, that we often seek to benefit others besides ourselves; but he says that when we do so, that is because we regard helping others as a mere means to our own good. According to the psychological egoist, we do not care about others for their sake. Altruism, in other words, does not exist.

Wow. OK. Not exactly what any right-minded, purposeful and compassionate human being wants to hear. But don’t panic.

There is a world of alternate points of view, starting with those of the great anthropologist David Sloan Wilson and his remarkable treatise Does Altruism Exist which focuses on the group function of humans and how we operate in familial groups, communities and societies. His findings thankfully point, ultimately, to the altruistic and more collectively purposeful individuals and groups winning out over the selfish ones. Phew.

So to the crux

When trying to define our special and defining traits and most saleable characteristics beyond our core work skills, it’s worth remembering – being purposeful and doing good can be very very different things. And you need to be clear about the difference. 

Being a well-meaning and compassionate person who likes to help others, serve the community, do outreach work or protect the environment means you have altruistic purpose – but equally, a Purposeful person might simply seek to build a profitable company that both serves their own aspirations as well as creating wealth and jobs for the community in which it exists.

The difference can be found in whether the good of your purpose is explicit in the outcome or the input.   

Purpose makes good things happen.

McKinsey’s, the weather vane of smart strategic doing in organisational thinking have this to say on the matter of purposeful people

People who live their purpose at work are more productive than people who don’t. They are also healthier, more resilient, and more likely to stay at the company. 

The simple truth is, on average, purposeful people in workplaces perform better than those who aren’t, and purposeful corporations, even the For Profit ones, perform better than the sector and market averages across pretty much all the measures that matter; from commercial success to transformative innovation to remarkable culture [the ultimate future-proofing magnet for best talent] and global reputation.  

So we’ll stick with our beliefs, and keep on trying to create employment opportunities between purposeful people and purposeful; organisations – starting there seems as good a place as any.  

Learn more about purposeful people and purposeful projects

At Work for Impact, we love to connect purposeful people to purposeful projects. And if you are a for-purpose organisation or a nonprofit? Work for Impact can help you find the right freelancers to bring your projects to life. Sing up for free or if you need further insights, take a look at the organisations that have already found the right on-demand talent on the platform.

Are you looking for meaningful job opportunities?

Join us at Work for Impact. From our dashboard, you’ll be able to take a look at our open job board and find your next purposeful project. To stay in the loop for new opportunities that match your skill set, create a Work for Impact freelancer account today and make your profile an eye-catcher for the hiring managers that look for talent on the platform every day.