Job performance benefits from helping others, according to new research by Rutgers Business School professors

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Helping people at work isn’t just a good thing to do, it can make you better at your job, according to new research from professors at Rutgers Business School and the University of Virginia.

"What we know about workplace social networks tends to be focused on what you can get from the people you know,” said Neha Shah, a professor of management and global business at Rutgers and the lead author of the research, which will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Management. "The question, then, is what about the people who are doling out the help," she said.

Shah worked with her colleague Daniel Levin, who also teaches management at Rutgers, and Professor Rob Cross at the McIntire School of Commerce to look into the understudied implications of providing help. They focused on situations where a person provided task-focused problem-solving assistance to another and whether they benefited – beyond reciprocity – in the process.

Credit: RamCreativ\iStock\Thinkstock

In a study of 494 U.S.-based management consultants, the researchers discovered that learning occurred through the give-and-take of discussions, which they attribute to improvements in the provider’s problem-solving skills like how to frame problems and how to identify useful information.

While Adam Grant’s book Give and Take established that helping others enriches our lives and strengthens our connections, the new research adds another dimension of understanding about the specific benefits of providing assistance to others within your network. "What this paper says is you can also benefit your own performance,” Shah said.    

The new research suggests that a couple of things are capable of diminishing benefits to the assistance provider, including listening to people vent while helping them with their work problems. People who find themselves listening to constant complaints can actually become distracted and exhausted, making it more difficult to learn through the relationship, Shah said.

"Similarly, helping people who have different areas of expertise doesn't typically benefit the person providing assistance. If I’m helping you solve your problems and it’s a totally different area,” Shah said, “my brain isn’t going to be looking for the things that I can apply to my own work because they’re probably going to be so different.”

-Susan Todd 

TAGS: Business Insights Daniel Levin Management and Global Business Neha Shah Organizational Behavior Research