Unsolicited Help can have Toxic Effects in the Workplace
During coaching sessions, coaches try to avoid offering advice unless explicitly asked by the client. This could also be an effective technique for the workplace. Russell Johnson, a management professor at Michigan State University, has found that offering unsolicited help—or proactive help—in the workplace can negatively impact both the helper and the person receiving the unsolicited help.
Over the course of 10 days, Johnson collected 232 daily observations from 54 employees between the ages of 21 and 60 who worked full-time jobs across a variety of industries. He analyzed these observations for daily helping, receipt of gratitude, perceived positive social impact and work engagement.
“What we found was that on the helper side, when people engage in proactive help, they often don’t have a clear understanding of recipients’ problems and issues, thus they receive less gratitude for it,” Johnson says.
He further explains that by having received less gratitude than expected, helpers feel less motivated at work the next day. The person being helped experiences their own set of negative feelings, too, often questioning their own competence and feeling a threat to workplace autonomy.
“On the recipient side, if people are constantly coming up to me at work and asking if I want their help, it could have an impact on my esteem and become frustrating,” Johnson says. “I’m not going to feel inclined to thank the person who tried to help me because I didn’t ask for it.”
Johnson concludes that help is good overall but that you should wait until asked by a co-worker to offer it. And, if you’ve received help, you should quickly offer a small form of gratitude. “If you wait a few days, it won’t have an impact on the helper,” Johnson explains.
To avoid these toxic effects, organizations can look to develop a coaching culture and train their employees in how to use coaching skills. Doing so can help foster a workplace where people feel supported and appreciated.
The findings were published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.