Is Offering Help Really Helpful?


Is offering a co-worker help really helpful? Or might it cause tension? Recent research conducted by Allison Gabriel, McClelland Professor of Management and Organizations and University Distinguished Scholar at the Eller College of Management in the University of Arizona, asks the question “when is receiving help beneficial versus not beneficial and for whom?”

In terms of the “when”, Gabriel differentiated between receiving help that is empowering or non-empowering. For “whom” she drew from theory and research on stereotype threat and benevolent sexism to explain why the help recipient’s gender is a critical moderator of the link between receiving non-empowering help specifically and competence perceptions. 


Gabriel found that receiving empowering help was positively associated with perceptions of competence—and this relationship was not dependent on the recipient’s gender. The effect of receiving non-empowering help, however, was qualified by the recipient’s gender. Men seemed to benefit from receiving non-empowering help—but women did not.

“This dynamic is problematic,” says Gabriel. “As it resulted not only in discrepancies in competence between women and men, but in important downstream outcomes.”

The differential performance outcomes in this study may accumulate over time and translate into long-term consequences for women—further contributing to workplace inequity.

Taken from another study, Gabriel noted “there are signs that the glass ceiling is cracking, but a broken rung prevents women from reaching the top.”

“And If receiving non-empowering help leads women to perceive lower competence compared to men, this may be one such broken rung for women at work,” she says.

This research is published in the Journal of Applied Psychology and is co-authored with Young Eun Lee, Florida State University, Lauren S. Simon, University of Arkansas, Joel Koopman, Texas A&M University, Christopher C. Rosen, University of Arkansas and Seoin Yoon, Texas A&M University.