Research

Offering to help colleagues isn’t helpful

13 Dec 2018 By Lauren Brown

Proactively offering assistance can be detrimental to both parties

It may seem natural to jump straight in and offer assistance when a colleague seems like they’re struggling, but research from Michigan State University suggests we should challenge our well-meaning instincts.

At the same time, the study – which looked into the most effective types of help in the workplace – did not conclude that we should instead be unhelpful.  

“Right now, there’s a lot of stress on productivity in the workplace and to be a real go-getter and help everyone around you,” says associate professor of management Russell Johnson. “But it’s not necessarily the best thing when you go out looking for problems and spending time trying to fix them.”

Researchers studied 54 employees between the ages of 21 and 60 who worked full-time across a variety of industries and found proactive helping negatively impacted both parties.

Observing the workers over a period of 10 days, Johnson found that proactive help was actually damaging, whereas reactive help – given only when asked for – was normally beneficial. 

“Being proactive can have toxic effects, especially on the helper. They walk away receiving less gratitude from the person that they are helping, causing them to feel less motivated at work the next day,” says Johnson.

“As for the person receiving the unrequested help, they begin to question their own competency and feel a threat to their workplace autonomy.”

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