Learning & Development

Exploring the Negative Impacts of Proactive Help

In a previous post, we discussed the difference between proactive and reactive help in the workplace. Proactive help is when someone actively seeks out opportunities to assist coworkers, while reactive help is when someone provides assistance only after being asked.


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While we often respect, applaud, and reward being proactive at work, proactive help can actually have negative consequences on the helper and the person being helped—and even the organization as a whole. Let’s take a look at why this is.

Less Gratitude for Helper

Management professor Russell Johnson’s research has led him to believe that being proactive can have toxic effects in the workplace—especially for the helper. He or she can come away from a situation where he or she has proactively attempted to help a coworker feeling that his or her efforts have been underappreciated or not appreciated at all. That, says Johnson, can cause him or her to feel less motivated over time.
Johnson adds that most of the time, help recipients won’t immediately express gratitude, which lessens the impact of positive reinforcement if, or when, gratitude is eventually expressed.

Lower Self-Esteem for Helpee

Proactive help also has negative impacts for those receiving the help. They start to question their own competency when people are going out of their way to help them accomplish their job functions.
Think about it. You’re doing your job, and a coworker comes along and says, “Here, let me help you with that.” Your initial internal reaction might be, “Why? Don’t you think I’m capable of handling this on my own?”
Another consequence of proactive aid from the point of view of the helpee may be the sense, over time, that he or she is losing some of his or her job autonomy by others’ stepping in to take on aspects of the work.

Productivity Issues for the Organization

The organization as a whole will be harmed by negative impacts to individual employees. Engaging in proactive help can lead to inefficiencies. Johnson notes that often, the person providing proactive help steps in without fully understanding the situation at hand.
Not only might his or her help be less productive than it would be had it been sought out by someone explaining exactly what the need is, but it could also be counterproductive, causing tasks to take longer to complete. Consider also that while the helpful employee is stepping in to assist someone else, his or her own work may be negatively impacted.
We’ve explained the difference between proactive and reactive help, and we’ve talked about the potential negatives that come with proactive help. In a follow-up post, we’ll talk about some best practices for offering help in the workplace.

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