Learning & Development

Offering the ‘Right’ Kind of Help to Coworkers

As human beings, we’re often drawn to the idea of helping others. Whether it’s volunteer work, contributing to charities, or helping a neighbor in need, pitching in to help someone else in our community, however that community is defined, strengthens our sense of community.help
The workplace is no different. Even though many of us are often extremely busy with our own responsibilities, it can be very rewarding to help others with their tasks, as well.
But, according to some experts, sometimes that help can do more harm than good. Management professor, Russell Johnson, defines two different kinds of help that can be offered in the workplace—proactive and reactive help.

Proactive vs. Reactive Help

According to Johnson, if you are the type of person who is energetic and takes the initiative in looking for ways to help your coworkers, you’re offering proactive help. You’re not waiting for someone to ask you to step in; you’re proactively looking for someone who needs help and offering your assistance.
If, on the other hand, someone at work comes up to you and asks for your help and you then provide that help, you’re engaging in reactive help—you’re reacting to someone’s request for assistance from you.

The Implications

Johnson’s work suggests that there are some key differences between the impacts that these two different forms of help may have on an organization.
While at first glance, it might seem like a very good thing to create a climate where employees proactively look for ways to assist their coworkers, Johnson argues that this can be counterproductive in a number of ways—not just for the organization but also for the person offering the help and the person receiving the help.
Understanding the implications of proactive vs. reactive help can provide organizations with the insights they need to appropriately educate and coach employees to approach each other in ways that boost teamwork, camaraderie, and productivity.
Here, we’ve discussed what the two terms mean. In a follow-up post, we’ll describe how proactive help can have negative impacts. Then, in a final post on this topic, we’ll discuss some best practices for chipping in—productively—around the workplace.

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