Helping your colleagues can turn you into an arse

By Kitty Knowles 11 May 2017
Helping your colleagues can make you behave like an arse. Pic: Getty/gpointstudio

If you have a supportive streak, beware.

Love lending your co-workers a helping hand? Watch out, it could well have a more negative impact than you’d think.

Supporting your colleagues in the morning can actually lead to selfish behaviour in the afternoon, new research suggests.

Help yourself

When workers feel impelled to spend time helping others, this leads to mental exhaustion and self-serving behaviour, a study from Michigan State University, the University of Arizona, Texas A&M University and the University of Arkansas has found.

It also has a negative knock-on effect on the atmosphere of the office.

“The increase in mental fatigue from helping coworkers in the morning led employees to reduce their helping behaviours in the afternoon and, perhaps more interestingly, they engaged in more self-serving political behaviours in the afternoon as well,” said co-author Russell Johnson, from MSU’s Broad College of Business.

“They switched from being other-oriented in the morning to being selfish in the afternoon.”

The study

The study, published in Personnel Psychology, followed 91 employees over 10 working days and asked subjects to answer one survey in the morning and one in the afternoon about their workplace experiences.

While Johnson has previously noted the “dark side” of helping others on well-being and performance, it’s the first time he’s observed how helpful individuals can end up creating a harmful work environment.

“[The] research has established that political acts from employees can culminate into a toxic work environment with negative well-being and performance consequences,” he explains.

What does this mean for you?

No one is suggesting that you should stand by when a fellow employee is floundering under their workload. But individuals, team leaders, and bosses should all take note, and that might mean changing your office priorities.

If you find yourself working doubly hard for someone else’s benefit, for example, you should ensure you reward yourself with sufficient breaks to recover, suggests Johnson.

If you don’t, you could become the office arse in the afternoon.

As a manager, if you see your team struggling with and imbalance of skills or workload, it’s to everyone’s benefit that you address it, and support individual employees to become more self-sufficient.

You should also always acknowledge it when you see a team member being helpful, and insist that they take a well-earned break afterwards. Encouraging employees to leave work behind them once they step out the door can also stop any negative feelings rolling on throughout the week.

Co-operation will always be a key part of any successful business, but if you want to be on your best behaviour throughout the day, you need to make sure you’re not giving a disproportionate amount of your time and energy to others.

Perhaps it’s time to give yourself a little help too?