Why we're so intrigued by generous CEOs

Gravity Payments CEO Dan Price did it. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, took the plunge. Even Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO, proclaimed his headline-making decision last week.

What was it that these CEOs did? They demonstrated an exceptional degree of generosity.

Mr. Price publicized his decision in April cut his $1.1 million salary so all his employees could have a minimum annual salary of $70,000. In October, Mr. Dorsey said he will return $200 million in stock for his employees' bonus pool. Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, MD, shared news that they would give 99 percent of their Facebook shares — which is worth approximately $45 billion — to philanthropy.

These stories of CEO kindness have fascinated readers this year. Here are four reasons why we're so intrigued by the charitable acts of CEOs and bosses, according to Jena McGregor of The Washington Post.

1. The stories are unique. Ms. McGregor pointed out accounts of giving CEOs seem like fascinating new novelties. "Such stories stand in contrast to the stereotype we continue to have of the money-driven, job-cutting, shareholders-first CEO," she wrote.

2. Interest is prompted by a type of "reverse workplace-version of schadenfreude." "Schadenfreude" traditionally refers to pleasure derived from others' misfortunes. But Ms. McGregor's analysis puts a new spin on the term. Rather than feeling happy about others' troubles, we feel happy about their luck. Maybe we're even jealous and wish our boss could do the same.

3. The stories share qualities with marketing videos that go viral. A recent Harvard Business Review article outlines why people want to share videos on the Internet. The article cites Unruly, a marketing technology company, which found a viewer's psychological response and social motivation are drivers of viral success. Ms. McGregor claims generosity stories share the same attributes.

4. People like feeling happy. Stories of generous bosses are undoubtedly feel-good tales. As human beings, we want to share positive, happy news. Evidence of this has been proven by professors at Philadelphia-based University of Pennsylvania. They analyzed thousands of New York Times articles and found two characteristics that determined the popularity of a given article: "How positive the story's message was and how much it excited the reader."

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