Chicago Tribune (Sunday)

Scratch your own back: Helping others at work? Don’t expect reciprocat­ion

- — Marco Buscaglia, Careers

Jensen Reynolds says he has no problem helping out his co-workers when they need to complete a project on time but admits he’s become hesitant to do it. “The problem with helping out people at work is that they rarely reciprocat­e,” says the marketing associate in Atlanta. “It’s not like helping out my sister or my best friend. I know they have my back. But with people I work with, there’s not a lot of paying back favors.”

Asa Horst agrees. “Everyone has to rely on others at work from time to time. You might need someone to help you meet a deadline because your child’s school called to tell you to come and pick up your sick kid. Or maybe it’s just too much work, just an impossible task for one person,” says Horst, a Seattle-based paralegal. “But there are people who just take advantage of you — they’re always asking for help — and then when you need a small favor, they come up with a million excuses about why they can’t help you out.”

Facing new realities

Andrea Corgis, a New York social worker specializi­ng in workplace relationsh­ips, says the dynamics of today’s office differ from 20 years again. “You’re expected to do more with less, and as a result, there are a lot of people who have too much work to do,” Corgis says. “So how do they deal with it? They ask for help. The problem is that they don’t ask the right people for help. They go to their co-workers instead of their boss.”

Corgis says the problem is exacerbate­d when employees feel like they’re competing with their peers for a promotion. “If you help someone finish a proposal or clean out the break room, they may be less likely to even acknowledg­e that help if you are both on the same career trajectory. They’re probably thinking that it’s a display of incompeten­ce or laziness, so they certainly don’t want to convey that to their bosses,” Corgis says.

That approach can be damaging to their reputation. “No one wants to be the guy who gloms off everyone for help and then never acknowledg­es that help,” Corgis says. “And it’s not like you can keep things like that a secret. Hollywood gossip has nothing on office gossip. People love to throw shade on their co-workers.”

Corgis says ungrateful co-workers are also missing out on a chance to show their leadership skills. “Good managers know how to delegate work,” she says. “And they know how to make their employees feel valued for doing that work. That’s why you should email your boss and let him or her know when you’ve received some help on a project. They’ll think more highly of the person who helped you, but they’ll also think more highly of you as well.”

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