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Helping co-workers can tire you: study

Women Working

Washington: Office-goers, take note! Helping your co-workers too often may lead to mental and emotional exhaustion and hurt your job performance, a new study has warned.

The effects were especially strong for employees with high “pro-social motivation” – or those who care deeply about the welfare of others, researchers said. While previous studies on helping has focused largely on the effects of the beneficiaries, this is one of the first studies to focus on the helpers, they said.

“Helping co-workers can be draining for the helpers, especially for employees who help a lot. Somewhat ironically, the draining effects of helping are worse for employees who have high pro-social motivation,” said Russell Johnson from Michigan State University in the US.

“When these folks are asked for help, they feel a strong obligation to provide help, which can be especially taxing,” said Johnson. Sixty-eight employees in a variety of industries, including finance, engineering and health care, participated in the study by filling out surveys in the morning and afternoon for 15 consecutive workdays. The surveys measured depletion using a previously established scientific scale and helping through another scale that asks questions such as “today, I went out of my way to help co-workers who asked for my help with work-related problems.”

The findings suggest employees should exercise caution when agreeing to help because helping may leave them depleted and less effective at work and cause mental and emotional exhaustion. On days when employees find themselves engaging in unusually high amounts of helping, they can attempt to bolster
their energy by the strategic use of breaks, naps and stimulants like caffeine, the researchers said.

Help-seekers, on the other hand, should realise that asking for help, especially multiples times a day, has detrimental effects on the employees who are helping, they said. “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 and avoid continually seeking help from the same person,” researchers said.

However, 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,” said researchers. The findings were published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.


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