being helpful might be more tiring than you realize

Over at the Fast Track by QuickBase today, I take a look at several big work-related stories in the news right now: being helpful might be more tiring than you realize, why writing a to-do list helps your brain even if you don’t finish everything on it, and more. You can read it here.

{ 18 comments… read them below }

  1. Cruciatus*

    And not only can helping be tiring for the person, depending on how it’s done, it can make your coworkers seethe with rage sometimes. I have a coworker who was a huge help to me when I started, but even once I got my footing, he would still do things–sometimes things that were definitely mine to do–and it started to get very irritating. He’s not doing it to be a jerk or that his way is the best way. I think it’s more that if he’s not jumping up to help people he’s not doing anything (even though he has plenty on his own plate). He got a few talking tos from our supervisor and I think he “gets it” but he still does it sometimes (though he is better). And on those days he does this he’s depleted and doesn’t seem to understand why. Now that he’s getting better hopefully he’ll gain some of his energy back… Though faculty (we work at a university) all think their problems are the most important, sometimes it just has to wait and it will be fine and it will all get sorted out!

  2. Jennifer*

    Oh my god, so much damn helping in my line of work. No wonder we’re all drained dry every single day.

  3. LBK*

    I’m glad there’s research out there to support my annoyance at being asked questions 24/7. I sometimes get people asking for help before I’ve even sat down at my desk – one of the main reasons I try to remember to keep my headphones in until I’ve settled in a bit. I’ve coasted on the high of being the go-to person for years as it definitely feeds your ego to be considered the one that knows everything, but honestly at this point it seems to be more trouble than it’s worth, and sometimes it feels like people just don’t even bother trying to solve their own problems if I’m available to do it for them.

    1. Newish Reader*

      Early in my career I had a supervisor that never wanted us to come to him with a question until we had at least one or two possible answers to go along with the question. It required us to think through the question before approaching him and often times the thought process answered the question. Or we had at least given the question thought and not been lazy and looking for someone else to solve the problem. The supervisor was very helpful in talking through the questions we did bring to him to help us learn how to evaluate questions and find the solutions on our own in the future. And he did it in a way that was positive and not demeaning.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I wish I could institute this with my higher-ups, but unfortunately, you can’t really do that upward!

    2. Jennifer*

      I haaaaaaaaaaaate the word “question.” Or “quick question,” because they never are. I want to dissuade questions as much as possible, but there is nothing you can do to dissuade questions. People will hound you to the ends of the earth!

  4. Lemon Zinger*

    We have several new employees in my office, and though they don’t report to me, they often ask me questions if their supervisor isn’t available. It can definitely be draining, but I find that a positive attitude helps me keep going.

    I REALLY get tired when I go out of my way to help others (i.e. volunteering for events). I’m trying to practice the art of saying “No” but it can be a challenge!

  5. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    The helping thing is so interesting. I love helping (in many contexts). I’ve come to realize that it’s core to the work I most like to do.

  6. FiveWheels*

    Good article!

    1 – Being helpful isn’t more tiring than I realise – it’s the most exhausting thing the is. I’ve recently given my permission to ignore people offering up vague cries for help to the heavens and it’s been great. One request for trivial help is nice. Ten is exhausting. The expectation that people will constantly come to me without trying to figure things out for themselves, when they are never able to give reciprocal help? Recipe for madness!

    2 – I live and die by to do lists. Today all but two items bit crossed out. I am a champion.

    3 – I’m more productive in a bad mood! In a bad mood it’s head down, keep working, power through. In a good mood I smell the flowers more, as it were.

    1. Beezus*

      The vague cries for help just kill me. If someone comes to me with a specific problem or question, that’s one thing, but when they can’t or won’t even articulate what they need help with, I get so frustrated.

      I got an email yesterday from a coworker looking for help troubleshooting a problem, and it was literally “I don’t even know where to start with this, can you help?” and then six screenshots. The actual problem was not immediately apparent from the screenshots, it took me a few minutes of studying to figure out what was wrong. How hard is it to write a sentence or two saying “The date here doesn’t match the date there, and it looks like we’re going to be late on this by a week. I need to figure out how the dates got misaligned.”?

  7. designbot*

    I’m a generally helpful person and am happy to help a colleague learn a little trick that makes life easier. But this switches over to “zero f***s left to give” very quickly when they ask the same questions over and over again. There is no clearer confirmation that you are wasting your time then when someone cannot be bothered to retain the information they bothered you to get the first, second, or third time.

  8. Ama*

    I’ve actually been working for the last year or so on modifying my coworkers’ expectations on how quickly I can help them after nearly working myself to burnout last year trying to help everyone while completing my own projects. I think to a large extent the near-decade I spent as academia support staff predisposed me to putting colleagues’ requests at a higher priority than my own work, and that’s just not a requirement of my current job — certainly my colleagues do occasionally have something urgent that I need to drop everything and help with but part of my job now is also recognizing when my own project is the highest priority.

  9. So Very Anonymous*

    I wonder how the “helping is depleting” argument plays out for the helping professions. I’m in one of those, and I know I struggle with how draining all the helping can feel if I’m not careful about setting limits and maintaining some space for me to get things done in between. I’ve noticed that some colleagues so define themselves by their unwillingness to say no to or set limits with clients that they wear themselves out and resist even communicating with colleagues. (I say this as someone who had an overburdened, won’t-say-no-to-anything colleague lash out at me pretty spectacularly earlier this week).

  10. Chaordic One*

    In my previous job at Dysfunctional Teapots, Ltd. I somehow became the “go to” person for all sorts of problems that came up and that had nothing to do with my job. Unfortunately, I was usually smart enough to figure out who the helpless person should talk to to get their problem resolved. But the interruptions became distractions and made the job stressful.

  11. Zombeyonce*

    My manager has moved into a new role and I’m serving as interim manager until the new one starts, and I now understand why the old manager always had such a hard time getting regular projects completed. The people on my team ask questions CONSTANTLY. I get a good 20 new IM conversations a day at various times about all kinds of things and it’s incredibly draining. Not to mention that it’s so distracting and makes it really hard to get back into a rhythm on projects I’ve go going.

    I can’t wait until someone else gets to answer all these questions, though the new manager will probably start asking me all the questions after they go through him since he’s new to the company… Will this ever end?

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