Helping colleagues can harm your job performance: Study

by John Hilton15 Jun 2016

Everybody needs help in the workplace to learn and develop.

But those who seek help often should consider the "magnitude and solvability" of the issue before doing so, and avoid continually asking assistance from the same person, said a new study.

This is because helping your co-workers too often can lead to mental and emotional exhaustion and hurt your job performance, according to Michigan State University's Russell Johnson and his fellow researchers.

They argue that the depletion effects were especially strong for employees with high "pro-social motivation" - or those who care deeply about the welfare of others.

"Helping co-workers can be draining for the helpers, especially for employees who help a lot," said Johnson.

"Somewhat ironically, the draining effects of helping are worse for employees who have high pro-social motivation. When these folks are asked for help, they feel a strong obligation to provide help, which can be especially taxing."

The study involved 68 employees in a range of industries, including finance, engineering and health care.

The findings suggest workers should be cautious when agreeing to help. The researchers also recommend that when employees find themselves engaging in unusually high amounts of helping, they can boost their energy by the strategic use of breaks, naps and stimulants like caffeine.

The study also acknowledges that people seeking help should realise that asking for it (especially multiples times a day) can have “detrimental effects” on the employees who are helping.

"This is not to say that co-workers should avoid seeking help, but that they ought to consider the magnitude and solvability of the issue before doing so,” said the study.

However, the study also found that when helpers are thanked or made aware of the positive results of their actions, this can "minimise and may even reverse the effects of depletion".

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

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