When offering help at work can be a double-edged sword

When offering help at work can be a double-edged sword rosinski Wed, 08/25/2021 - 13:21 In the workplace, the helpful colleague, who goes beyond the call of duty to help others, is well-liked by most. But this helpful colleague who puts in extra hours in order to help others may face the displeasure of his/her family members, according to NUS Business School, Remus Ilies, Provost's Chair and Professor of Management & Organisation and Sherry Aw, Lecturer, Department of Psychology, James Cook University (Singapore). News
helping hand

When helping fellow colleagues, the employee spends time and energy on the extra task. The fatigue sets in. This leaves him/her with less emotional energy for the family. One may withdraw more socially or is more likely to have conflicts with a family member. This is when a well-meaning gesture to help others crosses the work-family boundary.

But helping colleagues has its own benefits too. Helping others builds a sense of personal accomplishment. This leads to more competency and a greater sense of meaning at work. By creating this sense of personal accomplishment, helping colleagues may enrich family relations as well. People who feel more competent and accomplished at work will bring the same positive energy and attitude to the family, allowing employees to invest themselves fully into interacting with their family members. The difference between boosting or burning the family ties lies in whether there is a reciprocity of colleagues’ help.

In our study published in the Journal of Occupational And Organisational Psychology, we asked 320 bank employees in China, and their spouses, how work has made an impact on their family lives.

At the start, we surveyed employees from three different banks on how often they helped others at work, and how much help they themselves received from their colleagues, in the past month.

Two weeks later, these employees were surveyed on their work experiences over the previous two weeks. The questions were related to whether they feel emotionally drained, and whether they felt a strong sense of personal accomplishment at work.

We also asked the employees’ spouses to rate the employees’ performance at home, such as whether they fulfilled their household responsibilities, or if they showed any withdrawal behaviours in their marriage. An example of a withdraw behaviour would be wanting some quiet time for himself or herself.

Our analysis showed that employees who gave more, felt less tired when they received help from their colleagues. At the same time, they had a strong sense of personal accomplishment.

Those who received less help had higher levels of emotional exhaustion, which was positively related to marital withdrawal behaviours and negative family performance.

The moral of the story here is that teamwork is the best. Organisations can build up a culture of support so that helpful employees don’t feel that they are sacrificing their families in order to help their colleagues. During the pandemic where families are grasping with constant changes, and when more are experiencing burnout at work, this culture of support is all the more pertinent.

Managers can promote the helping culture by pointing out the benefits of having more meaning and personal accomplishment at work. When hiring, managers can also look out for applicants who show a willingness to help others.

Helping others at work is a double-edged sword. It builds your sense of accomplishment but can cut into your family ties if one is not careful. When there is a strong sense of mutual support at work, however, the collective energy is powerful and can even be restorative, with benefits beyond the workplace and for the family.

The article is an abridged version of the one first published on SCMP.  

Remus Ilies Remus Ilies Provost's Chair and Professor Management & Organisation at NUS Business School
Sherry Aw Sherry Aw Lecturer Department of Psychology, James Cook University (Singapore)

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