How we can all combat greed in the workplace (and why)

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Greed can be insidious. When people think of greedy employers or employees, their minds may go to flashy headlines like Bernie Madoff, Theranos, or extreme cases of employees embezzling, stealing, and defrauding the company they work for. In reality, many of the problems we face in the business world—income inequality, silent resignation, high employee turnover, and burnout—are also the result of greed.

The origins of both employer and employee greed are the same: wanting more than one deserves. For employers, this seems like squeezing every last drop out of their employees without fair compensation or concern for their well-being. For employees, this means disproportionately prioritizing their compensation over creating value for the company.

It’s easy for the scales to tip one way: Employers crush employees to the bone, or cynical employees take advantage of a company’s lenient policies. To achieve balance, there must be a proper value exchange between employers and employees: the company cares about the well-being of its employees, and the employees return that care by creating value for the company.

Related: The Greed Downside: 90 Percent of Nothing Is Nothing

Greed drives exhaustion

The culture of burnout is, in large part, fueled by greed. Consider companies that provide enough amenities for an employee to essentially live at work with showers, gyms, free food, and more. These companies may feel like they are being generous by offering these benefits, but in practice, these benefits can encourage an unhealthy work-life balance. Employees are incentivized to stay in the office as long as possible, doing more work for the same pay at the expense of their well-being. No amount of free meals or free dry cleaning is worth the emotional stress of burnout this culture could lead to.

Employers who engage in this type of behavior fail to realize that greed is not only bad for employees, but also bad for business. Employees who feel overworked and underpaid build animosity toward their employers over time. Employers will see an increase in employee turnover, which is already at a record level. If employees don’t literally quit, many may engage in “quiet quitting,” a viral trend that encourages employees to put less effort on the job to avoid burnout.

Instead of asking our employees for more, we should ask them what they need more from us; you might be surprised to learn that they’re not really interested in a new treadmill or workplace happy hour. Earn employee loyalty and increase work engagement by prioritizing employee health and happiness, even (or especially) if it means they need to do “less.”

Related: 3 Ways Perfectionism Kills Your Business (And How To Get Over It)

Is it greed when you deserve it?

If someone has proven himself by adding value to the company, it is not greedy to ask for a raise. Rather, it is a fair share of what they helped generate. The value an employee adds to the company can and should be directly related to their compensation.

When employees divorce compensation from value creation and instead focus on time (“I’ve worked here for six months”) or comparison (“My friend at company X makes more money than I do”) , they can quickly become dissatisfied and cynical. As a leader, I have seen that the people who have grown the most in our company are those who focus on contributing value, which, in turn, leads to higher compensation. These employees don’t even have to ask for a raise; leadership recognizes their contribution and the loss it would be if they left, so we offer a raise that reflects their worth.

When employers and employees can come together to find the best compensation system that reflects the value creation of both parties, there is no longer a rivalry between shareholders and stakeholders. When everyone is fairly compensated for the value they create, they are motivated to create more value, which generates more revenue, creating a virtuous cycle. When the scales are balanced, you will see results far beyond what is achieved through short-term self-interest. When you create an environment like this, it’s much more difficult for greed to play a role.

Related: How to Design a Company Culture That Attracts Better Employees

Greed brings no fulfillment

When it comes to greed, it’s all too easy to point fingers at other people, but greed is all around us. Employees should feel cared for by their company and deserve fair compensation. In return, employers deserve employees who care about the health and growth of the business. Greed is a two-way street, and both employees and employers need to be aware of the ways, big or small, that they are perpetuating greed at work.

The most important reason to fight greed is perhaps the simplest: greed does not make us happy. Satisfaction arises when we create value and are passionate about our work. It comes when we care about the well-being of others and form genuine, mutual relationships with the people we work with every day. And it comes when we put aside comparison, put aside our ego and lead with generosity, faith and trust.

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