You may want to think twice before you go up to your colleague and offer unsolicited advice on how they can do their work better. A new study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that even well-meaning good advice can backfire for both helper and recipient when it is not asked for.
Why you should not help coworkers unless asked
Management professor Russell Johnson defined the two kinds of help employees are more likely to give at work: active helping —”providing help when requested”— and proactive helping —”providing help without being asked.”
Using daily observation logs and surveys of employees working manufacturing, government, health care and education, Johnson found that we do not react well to proactive helpers. While active helpers got gratitude for their act of generosity, participants were less inclined to give thanks for help they did not ask for from their coworkers.
When you go up to your coworker and offer advice without needing to be asked, you may see yourself as a generous coworker going above and beyond. But your coworker could be seeing a colleague acting morally superior. ‘They think I cannot handle this on my own?’ the offended colleague thinks. On the other side, it can feel like a slight to have your help go unthanked. ‘I went out of my way to help for this ungrateful person?!’ the unsolicited helper thinks. In these cases, it can be best to keep your mouth shut.
“Being proactive can have toxic effects, especially on the helper. They walk away receiving less gratitude from the person that they’re helping, causing them to feel less motivated at work the next day. More often than not, help recipients won’t express gratitude immediately, which makes it meaningless as it relates to the helper’s actual act,” Johnson said in a statement. “As for the person receiving the unrequested help, they begin to question their own competency and feel a threat to their workplace autonomy.”
If your coworker asks your opinion on how they can handle a problem, go ahead and speak freely. But unless you are specifically asked for advice, the most collegial act you can do is to mind your own business.