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The Secret to Maximizing Productivity

Generativity increases productivity in the workplace.

Key points

  • Generativity leads to productivity.
  • Mentoring leads to fast advancement.
  • Generativity in the workplace creates a sense of fulfillment.

Most adults spend at least a third of the day working (whether virtual or in-person). Have you ever wished to find a way to become more productive at work? Or that you could find a way to advance more quickly? There are some ways individuals create efficient workplaces with maximal productivity and advancement. The secret is free and relatively simple—by adding generativity to the workplace.

What is generativity, you might ask?

If you are in midlife, it is a term with which you should become acquainted. The renowned developmental psychologist Erik Erikson coined the term "generativity" to describe a facet of psychosocial development in his lifespan and emotional development theory. Generativity is a stage in midlife reflecting a desire to give to others without the expectation of anything in return. Essentially, in this stage, we drop reciprocity (I'll do something for you, and you do something for me in return) and embrace giving (passing on our skills, values, knowledge) to others.

Generativity is mentoring, volunteering, and philanthropy (Erikson, 1979, Heiser, 2016, and Vaillant, 2012) and involves:

  • Engaging in the world outside ourselves
  • Engaging in meaningful connections
  • Believing we are making an impact in the world
  • Believing our lives matter
  • Living with purpose.

The theory does not sound intuitive to those learning the ropes in a field or someone still working to achieve their peak ability. And that's understandable. When we are working hard to master our trade and concentrate on family, our bandwidth isn't wide enough to include caring for others.

However, generativity resonates with many aged 40 and older, who have already hit their stride at work. There are three common forms of generativity: mentoring, volunteering, and philanthropy. I'll be focusing on mentoring because—let's face it—how many people go to work to volunteer, and how many want to donate their money at work? Philanthropy and volunteering are excellent forms of generativity, but mentorship is an easy addition in the workplace.

Why is generativity important in the workplace?

The office is a perfect venue for mentoring, a basic form of generativity.

Dr. Miriam Bredella and her work environment at Massachusetts General Hospital exemplify generativity in a hospital work setting that is hierarchical and structured. Mentorship programs such as the one she runs can be replicated and implemented in other work environments.

Dr. Miriam Bredella

Miriam Bredella used with Permission
Promoting Women in Academic Medicine during COVID-19 and Beyond
Source: Miriam Bredella used with Permission

Dr. Bredella is professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School, vice chair for faculty affairs and clinical operations in the department of radiology, and a musculoskeletal radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). In her capacity as vice-chair for faculty affairs, she established a department-wide faculty mentoring program cited for excellence by Harvard Medical School.

"I mentor to make a difference and support the next generation," Bredella says. "There is nothing better for me than my mentee being successful." She brought mentoring into the workplace building upon her generativity : "I see the struggles of my younger colleagues, especially women, and want to do something about it. I feel so lucky that I had excellent mentors myself and feel privileged that I am now in a position where I can give back and feel fulfilled when my mentees are successful. As a mentee, you can never pay back your mentor, but you can pay it forward by mentoring the next generation."

To keep the generative spirit alive and moving forward at the massive MGH, Bredella created the Anne Klibanski Visiting Scholar Award to support women faculty and trainees during COVID. "The award offers the opportunity for women to serve as virtual visiting professors at a national or international institution. Since the beginning of the program, more than one-third of scholars have been considered for promotion to assistant or associate professor, two received major institutional leadership positions, one a tenure track position, and five received other awards." Thirty-six scholars were selected, resulting in 32 national and 18 international talks and a visiting lecture series (Bredella, 2021). It is already in the second cohort, with the next wave of women faculty and trainees being mentored and supported.

Promoting generativity in the workplace:

A productive work environment can increase productivity and change the promotion trajectory for individuals, but it doesn't just happen automatically. The first step is to make employees aware of how generativity can be beneficial. The second step is to promote it within the workplace in a structured manner, supporting vital generative behaviors such as mentoring. The side benefits of generativity in the workplace are feelings of fulfillment by both mentors and mentees,, increased productivity, and career advancement.


Erikson, E. H. (1979). Identity and the life cycle. Norton.

DebbieHeiser. (2016, May 18). Dan McAdams generativity. YouTube. Retrieved February 20, 2022, from

Vaillant, George E.. Triumphs of Experience : The Men of the Harvard Grant Study, Harvard University Press, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central,….

Bredella, M. A., Ferrone, C. R., Tannous, B. A., Patel, K. A., Levy, A. S., & Bouxsein, M. L. (2021). Promoting women in academic medicine during COVID-19 and beyond. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 36(10), 3292–3294.

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