Helpfulness in the Workplace

Whether we work with others in real time or virtually, most would agree that giving and receiving help from others is essential to our individual and team success. In fact, McKinsey researcher Adam Grant found that: “The amount of help a group’s members give one another is among the strongest predictors of group effectiveness.” Consider for example: 

  • After 9/11, a team of Harvard psychologists studied what makes intelligence units effective and found:   

“The single strongest predictor of group effectiveness was the amount of help that analysts gave to each other. In the highest performing teams, analysts invested extensive time and energy in coaching, teaching and consulting with their colleagues. These contributions helped analysts question their own assumptions, fill gaps in their knowledge, gain access to novel perspectives and recognize patterns in seemingly disconnected threads of information.”

  • Studies led by Indiana University’s Philip Podsakoff revealed that: 

“The frequency with which employees help one another predicts sales revenues in pharmaceutical units and retail stores; profits, costs and customer service in banks; creativity in consulting and engineering firms; productivity in paper mills; and revenues, operating efficiency, customer satisfaction and performance quality in restaurants…organizations benefit when employees freely contribute their knowledge and skills to others.”

  • Psychologists Stella Anderson and Larry Williams further discovered that:

“Direct requests for help between colleagues drive 75 to 90 percent of all the help exchanged within organizations.”

That’s right: When in need at work and on the job, we turn to one another. What makes us do so?

Why We Help

  • The social exchange theory suggests we help others so that we can maximize our own rewards.
  • The arousal-cost theory suggests we help others when they are in need to reduce our own unpleasant or anxious feelings.
  • The empathy-altruism theory suggests that we identify with the person in need and so are therefore motivated to help.
  • The evolutionary theory suggests if I help you, I am also protecting myself and expect the “favor” to be returned.  
  • The reciprocity theory which suggests that others will help us if we have helped them. 
  • The social responsibility theory suggests we help because we think we’re supposed to.

What motivates your desire to be helpful?

Why Don’t We Ask for Help?

But, there is a problem. While we may be more than ready to provide help, asking for it may be more of a challenge because we don’t know who to ask or we don’t want to take advantage of our busy co-workers. Even more commonly, we are reluctant to ask for help because we fear it will be seen as a sign of weakness and will make us look foolish or incompetent. 

Rethinking A Request for Help

Here’s how we can break down the barriers that get in the way of asking for help:

  • Information and expertise are everywhere, so begin to consciously identify each person’s strengths. Hmm…Carlos is great with the new processing software. Jenna has nailed the problem resolution protocol. And nobody generates sales leads like Cherise. Exactly! Think of the strengths that your co-workers possess as a pool of wisdom, talent and expertise that they are almost always willing to share, to help with. Just be sure to reciprocate when they need your help.
  • Your co-workers have a lot on their plate. So, be respectful of their time. Hey, Cherise…I know you are awesome at generating sales leads. Do you think I pick your brain for a few minutes on a Zoom call? Or, if time is of the essence, I’m in a pinch. Can you spare just a few minutes? 
  • Our beliefs are the hardest to change. Consider what you know about the power of giving and receiving help at work. Imagine help as a network of information, support and goodwill that operates nonstop between people all the time. You can participate in this exchange when you begin to see that doing so is a sign of strength, professionalism and your personal commitment to growth and development.  

Help given and help received is powerful. It is key to expanding expertise, solving difficult problems, sharing the load and reinforcing our sense of team. Step boldly: Offer your help and ask for it when you need it.


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