Reciprocity, in its simplest form, is returning a favor or “paying it forward.” Building a culture of reciprocity within organizations can go a long way toward positive employee engagement.
University of Michigan sociologist Wayne Baker makes a distinction between direct reciprocity—when one individual pays back another for a favor—and generalized reciprocity—where gratitude drives the process of paying a favor forward to a third party. Baker and his wife Cheryl developed the Reciprocity Ring as a way for organizations to practice generalized reciprocity.
The Reciprocity Ring taps into the very principle of reciprocity: People want to be helpful, altruistic, and generous. Given the opportunity, they will. When he first started the Ring, Baker believed the problem would be getting people to help. He found the opposite: “The real problem is getting people to ask for what they need,” he says. “Nothing happens unless there is a request. The request is the catalyst, the key to the whole process.”
Simply put, you get what you give. Employees will be more motivated to make an effort if they believe their employer is invested in employee well-being. Behavioral economist and engagement strategist David Kovacovich offers the following tips for using reciprocity principles to enhance employee engagement: