Reciprocity

Definition

The practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit

Why is reciprocity important

Reciprocity is often described as being an exchange. When you do A, you will receive B. This is just one type of the spectrum of reciprocity; the economic exchange. For instance, working a certain number of hours for a set wage is driven by a sense of obligation, as there is an agreement in the form of an employment contract. But there is also a social exchange that is part of reciprocity. The basic and most crucial distinction is that, compared to the economic exchange, the social exchange entails unspecified obligations. The social exchange is characterised by voluntary actions of individuals that are motivated by the returns they are expected to bring. It involves favours that create diffuse future obligations, and the nature of the return cannot be bargained. In other words; reciprocity entails individuals doing something because they trust that their efforts will generate an outcome. 

Where issues with reciprocity often occur

Employees who go above-and-beyond the expectations that come with their role, often do so in order to be rewarded. That can come in the form of recognition, career progression, access to other tasks or materials, or financial benefit. If this reward doesn’t come forth, the disappointed employee often loses all motivation and the related productivity.

The quick fix

Be open with your employees about the expectations that you have from them, and about what they can expect from you. Make sure to recognise a job well done, make it clear what that job can lead to, as well as which criteria apply to it.

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