Does Helping a Co-Worker Mean Hurting Yourself?

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A new study warns there are consequences to responding to co-workers who ask for your help.

Beware the co-worker who asks for your help.

Coming to the aid of co-workers too often can exhaust you mentally and emotionally and hurt your job performance, according to a new study in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

These negative effects are even worse for people considered to have high “pro-social motivation,” meaning they care deeply about others’ welfare.

“When these folks are asked for help, they feel a strong obligation to provide help, which can be especially taxing,” says co-author Russell Johnson, an associate professor of management at Michigan State University.

The study, by researchers at MSU and the University of Florida, is among the first to focus on the effects on helpers rather than help-seekers.

The study participants, 68 workers in various industries, completed surveys in the morning and afternoon for 15 consecutive workdays.

Takeaway for helpers

For helpers, the study findings suggest you should:

  • Exercise caution when agreeing to help, as it may leave you depleted and less effective at work.
  • Try to boost energy via breaks, naps and stimulants like caffeine on days when you find yourself helping more.

Takeaway for those who seek help

For those who seek help, the findings suggest you should:

  • Understand that asking for help, especially multiples times a day, negatively affects the co-workers who help you.
  • Express appreciation for the help to the co-workers who help you.

The study found that when helpers are thanked or made aware of positive results of their helping, it can minimize and may reverse the negative effects of helping.

As the study puts it:

“Thus, help-seekers can reduce the burden they place on helpers by clearly expressing the positive impact that helping had on them.”

Would you consider yourself more of a helper or a help-seeker? How has it affected you or the people who’ve helped you? Share your thoughts below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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