The concept of benevolence advocates the wellbeing of all at the societal level, while businesses are built around the ide of profit-making. Thus, for decades the concept of benevolence was shunned by businesses as irrelevant.
Author of the masterpiece on capitalism, “The Wealth of Nation”, Adam Smith, considers that benevolence is not a requirement or motivation for “gentle commerce” or the general human nature of self-maximization. Smith is a supporter of the idea of benevolence in general and believes in societal betterment but finds its association with business to be false or even hypocritical.
And yet, in the past few years it was highlighted that a crisis of morale is challenging the notions of political economy and the number of ethical scandals is increasing consistently. Moreover, a global survey found that only half of the employees feel that their team leaders are effective in creating a vision for the team’s future.
All these issues combined with rising doubts about sticking to old methods of management have given rise to a scenario where the overall wellbeing and development of employees and betterment of the world is an important item on the agenda of global businesses.
To encounter the lack of trust and ensure a healthier life of organizations, it is essential to create an ambience of compassion or benevolence that empowers employees to tackle the problems unique to the present times. Recently, the French magazine “Psychologies” appealed employers to be more benevolent to their employees and companies like EY, Ferrero, Allianz and Orange were few of the first to get onboard.
An empirical study conducted by a French consulting firm, found two different types of benevolence that can co-exist within a business organization – Formal Benevolence and Informal Benevolence.
Formal benevolence is a efficient management tool that is practiced by company leaders through well-defined and monitored organizational processes and is accepted by all to be constrained by organizational performance.
The goal of practicing formal benevolence is to spark motivation and enable managers to develop benevolence without losing sight of the company performance. To encourage the practice of formal benevolence, several tools like feedback systems, monitoring, rewards and punishment can be implemented. However, it must be acknowledged that benevolence is a subjective matter and managers are like “the guardians of this practice”.
Also, in profit-oriented organizations, it is always expected that benevolence will always be subjugated by performance targets. Managers will have to carefully balance benevolence and achievement of company goals and decide how to address the needs of a colleague without denting team efficiency, since target achievement will always be prioritized over practicing benevolence. To that end, companies can just set a minimum standard of benevolence and monitor how the company leaders practice it for the betterment of all.
Informal benevolence entails a completely unofficial system of influence that the leaders can practice at their discretion. There is no formal system of recognition or monitoring this type of benevolence. The aim of thispractice is to encourage developing real inter-personal relationships and friendships between employees to boost a healthy eco-system at work, where everybody feels a genuine connection.
Promoting informal benevolence is very challenging for the top and middle management as they can’t manage this amorphous setup. Organizations are ordained to become tolerant of benevolence, following the philosophy of “live and let live”, even if it hurts the company performance in immediate short-term. Because when co-workers socialize genuinely, virtuous loops of benevolence are established based on mutual gratitude creating an enabling and empowering corporate culture.
Benevolence shouldn’t be restricted by profit
For organizations, formal benevolence is prone to be used for boosting company profit, but the pandemic has proved that time is ripe for enterprises to change their mentality and indulge in virtuous benevolence that works for the wellbeing of all, irrespective of the profit angle.
But, to an extent, benevolence is also a personal choice that gives rise to a “benevolence paradox” – where benevolence is more efficient in influencing the behavior of the beneficiary. Finally, the concept of benevolence offers leaders and managers an opportunity to enrich their personal life in the corporate circle and give them a breather from the eternal profit-focus.