'Please Let Me Help You!' - The Yin and Yang Of Altruistic Behavior

By Sapna Mehta Mangal Associate Professor, School of Hospitality Management, Kendall College | April 01, 2018

The word altruism or autrui has its roots in French and means “other people.” Altruism is also derived from the Latin word “alter” meaning kindness for others. Often, altruism behavior is associated with something that is purely selfless and truly noble. A notable tenet of altruistic behavior is the act of putting others ahead of self by undertaking kind and selfless gestures. It is often referred to as organization citizen behavior, which is a term that will be used interchangeably throughout this article.

So, are empathy and altruism different or are they switchable? Empathy is the ability to fill someone’s shoes by feeling their pain and sadness. It is not necessarily followed by an act. It is, however, widely known within the scientific community that empathy can lead to altruistic behavior. So, they are connected but truly different.

Benefits of Altruistic Behavior

The ability to help others whether it is providing something as mundane like allowing a waiting family of four in a taxi line to take the cab prior to oneself or giving up a seat to a senior citizen on a crowded train. These good deeds put a smile on the recipients’ face and the giver acquires a “helper high.” Psychologically speaking, kinder people tend to live longer and are for the most part happier. Moreover, it should be underscored that this type of behavior can impact positive morale amongst staff thus boosting overall work performance.

As employees engage in altruistic behavior and guests in turn display their good emotional experiences on user generated content sites like Yelp or Trip advisor, businesses can continue to boast their grandiose guest service review ratings. Research states that even one bad review can result in as many as a fifth of potential guests looking for another hotel during the purchase state of the buying cycle, whereas more than two thirds of those that come across a positive review are inclined to complete their purchase cycle with a room booking. Therefore, sprinkles of positivity to reviews can add to an enriched business. Moreover, to most guests, quality of service is far more vital than the room rates. An altruistic organization culture can beget quality service which in turn can beget positive reviews. Thus, a chain effect is evident.

Altruism, can also be extended to social kindness which can help defuse bad service. Businesses can influence the number of guest complaints, by promoting and communicating the message of corporate social responsibility within their organization to customers. This commitment to donate to a good cause engulfs a guests’ self-guilt and terminates the guest’s desire to complain. Therefore, altruism can help mollify bad service, thus maintaining an overall positive reputation for businesses.

It is vital to reiterate here that altruism comes in a myriad of forms, it is promoted through an employee’s inner desire to display selfless acts towards guests and other employees, and secondly promoting leadership that fosters organizational citizenship behavior among their employees. Some internal benefits that can be derived for employees through their truly altruistic behavior, could include a sense of self contentment, heightened self-worth, feeling of acceptance and productivity. These benefits can result in employee recognition, their pay raise and even their promotion. The hotel industry leadership should assume this minimal altruistic expectation in order to heighten quality of service, increase their competitive advantage, and enhance their financial health. If employees put others ahead of themselves they can shift gears to a “helper’s high” mode which allows them to detract from work stress and personal stress.

Helping others by volunteering time can be a reminder that altruistic acts are more meaningful than personal problems. Biologically speaking, embracing altruistic feelings can also release oxytocin hormones which in turn can reduce adverse emotional feelings. To reiterate, organization citizenship behavior can raise guest satisfaction, facilitate employee success and garner overall organizational well-being.

Downside of Altruism

The one dilemma- how can hotels ensure their front-line employees are altruistic for the right reasons. Are they undertaking it, just so that the employee can tick mark a box dictated by an organization so as to attain the next big promotion which can then be qualified as a narcissistic reason for altruism? The receiving end of empathy or altruism is endurable however, it can tire those that are constantly on the giving end. Moreover, a showering of empathy especially for the front-line employees can amount to personal distress and excessive demands by hotel guests which can lead to compassion exhaustion and eventually staff burnout. Another downside worth mentioning- employees can restrict altruistic motives and conserve their empathy tendencies towards guests, not that they are heartless or do not care but are holding back to help conserve their ability to reach their most warranted altruistic state.

Can Human Resources Impact Altruism?

Hiring front-line employees with certain personality traits can guarantee their ability to display hues of selflessness on the job. According to research studies, employees that depict high interpersonal sensitivity traits on their personality tests are positively correlated to altruism. In the same vein, those that score high on adjustment traits also tend to empathize with those they serve. These employees are known to value altruism. These correlations can assist human resource departments when selecting and recruiting their front-line staff. It will open the floodgates to create a more empathy and altruistic work force alongside with an overall quality service that is aligned with the organization culture. Moreover, to stay competitive in the 21st century marketplace retaining a guest’s loyalty to the business is key. If acts of altruism become part and parcel of a service personnel’s job and the loyal guests continue to maintain their loyalty to the business as a result of the kindness it is a win-win for both parties.

How does the human resource department positively infuse organization citizen behavior in the organization? First, introducing training and developing that motivates and rewards hotel leadership to enhance employees’ commitment to organizational citizen behavior can be a starting point. Human resource departments, the cornerstone of hotels need to go above and beyond the run of the mill in house training and look to ways to promote and analyze on the job behaviors. Infusing personality tests in the recruiting process so as to align with overall organizational goals will empower hired frontline staff to carry on their altruistic acts. Lastly, human resources need to promote a proficient policy when it comes to acquiring human talent.

Ways to Promote Altruism In An Organization?

Modeling altruistic behavior and educating staff to recognize altruism as a self-service act can be a kickoff strategy. Its benefits are immense. There is something intrinsically gratifying to help others and show a little kindness. Imagine a front desk agent providing personal assistance to a senior guest to his or her guestroom. Striking this balance is what we hope for - a positive word of mouth from the guest and a sense of employee gratification. Multiply this moment of truth time and time again and this can only mean a good financial standing for the hotel in the long haul.

The bottom line – what are the next tactical steps undertaken by management? Encourage employees to find their sweet spot. Promote the act of kindness in an employee’s daily life in some simple ways. Helping a senior citizen with grocery in the parking lot. Practicing courteous acts like holding the door for a stranger. Extending a helping hand to pick up medicine for a sick neighbor. Reaching for the phone to call a long lost friend or relative. Writing a check to a noteworthy cause or charity can be inherently rewarding. Offering to dog sit for a friend that needs some vacation time. These are just some ways that the act of kindness can become an everyday affair, leading up to a habitual natural occurrence during guest service moments of truth. Cultivating a habit to extend workplace kindness can be an employee’s annual work performance goal and management’s department goal. Moreover, managers can create monthly in house kindness service goal charts to foster the altruistic agenda among employees and acknowledge those that have gone above the call of duty.


In conclusion, the debate between the yin and the yang is lopsided. And the winner is…..? The yin of altruism, hands down. Its benefits cannot be overstated. It can result in a motivated and productive work force promoting quality service, a stellar organization reputation, healthy financial standing, positive reviews and returning guests. The yang of altruism on the other hand, could be a purely selfish act whereby the sole purpose is to tick mark the box and fulfill an organization’s requirement to attain the next big raise, promotion, reward, recognition or even dealing with compassion exhaustion leading to burnout. It is truly evident that the yin of altruism outweighs the yang and therefore, to foster this guest service behavior it is vital for a hotel organization to attain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Human resources need to get it right. As mentioned earlier, training, development and staff selection needs to be carefully crafted and aligned with the overall organization culture so that the right person is hired for the right job. On a final note it is in the best interest of a hotel property to embrace internal and external altruistic behavior. Its outcome is truly beneficial to the business.

Ms. Mangal Sapna M. Mangal, an Associate Professor in the School of Hospitality Management brings more than two decades of international hospitality and teaching experience to Kendall College, Chicago. Ms. Mangal teaches hospitality marketing, e-marketing, strategic management, services marketing, service operations management and Information management courses. Ms. Mangal is the faculty advisor for Eta Sigma Delta (ESD) an International hospitality management honors society. Prior to joining Kendall's faculty, she taught Management Information Systems at Sam Houston State University College of Business Administration in Huntsville, Texas. She actively participates in hospitality industry professional conferences, trade shows and expositions. Ms. Mangal can be contacted at 312-752-2404 or sapna.mangal@kendall.edu Please visit http://www.kendall.edu for more information. Extended Biography

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