Help is available in today’s work environment, if you’re willing to accept it

By Jeremy Norman


(© Drobot Dean –

The cubicle has been replaced by the dining room, living room, or spare bedroom. The work desk has been replaced by the breakfast nook, dinner tray, or ottoman. Cramped meeting rooms have been replaced by video calls. And is anyone even wearing pants anymore?

In a short period of time, the outbreak of the novel coronavirus has completely altered how people conduct business, turning telecommuting into a necessity rather than a luxury. But what about those employees whose computer skills, or lack thereof, make remote work difficult? Fortunately for them, co-workers are often willing to assist, even if that assistance is not part of their normal job duties.

That assistance must be accepted, however. Therein lies the problem.

“People at work want to help others, and employers love and reward it,” explained Phil Thompson, assistant professor in the Department of Management. “But, it works only if people are willing to accept that help.”

Much of Thompson’s research has been focused on micro-organizational behavior, which looks at what happens in the workplace at the individual level. “What are the things that influence employees’ performance at work,” asked Thompson.

A manager and executive for multiple Fortune 500 companies prior to entering academia, Thompson said that his interest in micro-organizational behavior was motivated by his time in the private sector. “The different things that I saw and the questions I had while I was working in the private sector has inspired some of my research.”

As Thompson explained, helping behaviors, also known as organizational citizenship behaviors, are the discretionary things that employees do to help organizations and other employees reach their goals.

“Helping out co-workers, volunteering to serve on committees, etc.,” said Thompson. “Voluntary actions that are not in the employee’s job description make up organizational citizenship behaviors.”

According to Thompson’s research, when assistance is offered by a co-worker, it is important that they strongly consider accepting that help. Not doing so could be detrimental to their job performance.

“Not accepting help has deep implications,” he said. “Our research has shown that those reluctant to receive help often perform worse in their job duties, receive poorer reviews, and are seen less favorably by their supervisors and co-workers.”

Why would someone in need refuse help? According to research conducted by Thompson and Mark Bolino of the University of Oklahoma, there are five primary reasons.

“People tend to be worried about having to reciprocate, or paying back, a favor. They also worry that if they receive the help they won’t receive full credit for the work they’ve done. Some don’t trust their co-workers, while others don’t believe their co-workers are competent.”

He continued, “The primary reason people turn down assistance when it is offered is the idea of self-reliance. We have ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps culture,’ and sometimes that works to our disadvantage.”

Thompson stressed that, in today’s work environment, where the ‘ordinary’ day is anything but, people need to accept the fact that it is okay to need, and receive, help.

“Currently, a lot of workers are experiencing a new ‘normal,’” he explained. “People need to be open to accepting help.”


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