Andy’s Quick Hits (89): The Dark Side of Helping Coworkers

Andy Hab
2 min readSep 17, 2021

Are you saying there is a dark side to helping our coworkers?
Well, I’m not saying that but a study I stumbled across from a few years ago is.

So, don’t help coworkers, that’s it!
No, actually it’s much more nuanced. There are all sorts of very good reasons to help coworkers, ranging from improved team productivity, better atmosphere, bonding, etc., etc.

I’m confused. When should I help my coworkers?
Well, what the study found, which is interesting, is that particularly when fatigued that helping coworkers in the morning could backfire. Specifically it lead to higher feelings of exhaustion, and this in turn lead to less help in the afternoon but also more self-serving political behaviours in the afternoon!

Helping others is tiring?
Yes, this is what previous research from this group at Michigan State University found. Helping others used a bunch of cognitive resources and is fatiguing.

So, this is specifically about helping others when fatigued and in the morning?
Yes, obviously you can and should help others, but be careful about committing too much time to this when you’re tired and particularly in the morning.

Basically mornings should be for individual work and afternoons for collaborative work then?
Indeed, in fact I (and other time management gurus) have recommended similar things. Block a good chunk of time in the morning to just get on with individual work. It gives a sense of completion and you are fresh and can focus. Then you can get into other more random work including collaborative and helping activities.

Or don’t go to work tired!
That’s another option…but unavoidable at times…

Related short articles:
Microbreaks Improve Productivity
Better Morning Mindset Leads to More Success for Leaders
Yikes! Caffeine doesn’t fight sleep deprivation — says latest study
These leadership behaviours build more resilient and effective teams — latest research
Owl or Lark? New evidence for personality traits of early or late risers.

Andy publishes a quick hit every weekday on all things the brain, behaviour, and business. Please follow to receive your daily dose. Full list here.

Andy is author of leading brains Review a monthly e-magazine on all things the brain, behaviour, and business.

Allison S. Gabriel, Joel Koopman, Christopher C. Rosen, Russell E. Johnson.
Helping others or helping oneself? An episodic examination of the behavioral consequences of helping at work.
Personnel Psychology, 2017
DOI: 10.1111/peps.12229

Andy Hab

Sharing fascinating, fun, and important knowledge on the brain and human behaviour - most days. And masters track athlete - still going strong!