Your Helpfulness at Work is Hurting Your Career

Jennifer Smith, CEO
January 2, 2024
min read
January 2, 2024
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Discover how your helpfulness at work may be hindering your career. Learn strategies to balance collaboration and productivity for success.
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Helping others is often seen as a positive trait in all areas of our lives, and it’s especially valued in the workplace. Not surprisingly, the ability to be a team player is one of the most sought-after traits in job candidates, according to LinkedIn’s Most In-Demand Skills List.

It’s hard to imagine anyone denying the value of team members who are willing to lift up the people around them. But perhaps there is room to ask, “Can there be too much of a good thing when it comes to helping others?”

Too often, being a helper at work also means sacrificing your own productive time, creative energy and mental resources. 

In particular, if you’re one of the people who has been around longer, you may be all too familiar with the reality of less-tenured employees relying on your time in order to get approval or assistance. 

Instead of doing the work that you love, your days become one endless loop of answering questions, signing off on tasks and sitting down to focus, only to be interrupted by another notification. Soon enough, you feel yourself pulled in several different directions, all of which lead away from your high-impact work. 

As remote, flexible and hybrid workspaces continue to grow in popularity, work boundaries become increasingly blurry. This makes it difficult—but even more crucial—to learn to balance helpfulness with productivity.

Th‎e rise and cost of collaborative time

To understand the threats to productive time, we must first consider how collaborative time has increased in the workplace and understand the consequences of that trend. The current work climate, especially with the rise of on-demand and teleworking, has led to a culture of collaboration where employees are expected to constantly be available and responsive to help requests.

While this may enhance connections and improve employee well-being, it can also have harmful effects on individual workers. Responding to every help request can lead to burnout, decreased productivity and compromised efficiency. It's important to exercise caution when agreeing to help and find a balance that allows for both beneficial actions and focused concentration on important goals. 

Our calendars are also filling up with meetings with other team members. However, not all of these meetings result in productive outcomes. 

Unproductive meetings and a high influx of notifications can eat into the time you have to focus deeply on high-impact work. 

In a study conducted by Microsoft, 68% of people report that they don’t have enough uninterrupted focus time in their workday. The survey also found that the number one obstacle to productivity is inefficient meetings.

Microsoft study: Will AI Fix Work? Your Helpfulness at Work is Hurting Your Career
(Source: Microsoft)

‎Remote meetings, in particular, increased during the COVID-19 pandemic and look as though they are here to stay. According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, there were 60 percent more remote meetings per employee in 2022 than in 2020. 

Given that, it’s important that we consider the impact of collaborative time on individual productivity. The central problem here is that every time you say “yes” to a work meeting, you also say “no” to opportunities to work on vital activities that require uninterrupted, focused work.

As more workplaces embrace remote and hybrid work, it’s easy to think that meetings are necessary if there aren’t any resources that allow people to share information asynchronously.

Wh‎en being helpful begins to take away from productivity in the workplace

Cal Newport, author of “Deep Work,” describes high-quality work as the product of time spent and intensity of focus. Being a high-performing worker often means being the go-to person for helping coworkers in need. While this may seem like a positive workplace behavior, it can actually hurt your career in the long run.

Unfortunately, meetings, calls and notifications eat into focused work time all too easily in today’s workplace. Even a single notification can significantly derail a session of focused work. 

Studies show it takes an average of 23 minutes to recover focus after a distraction. 

Long-tenured employees are often at more of a disadvantage here, given that they’re the ones that new team members rely on for guidance and feedback. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to advancing in your career, managers often don't see the work you contribute during these meetings. Instead, they’re going to look at the quality and impact of key projects and deliverables.

While collaboration in itself isn’t a bad thing, it does have the potential to take time and mental resources away and lessen your ability to be productive. In other words, if you want to produce high-quality work, you need to have blocks of time where you’re uninterrupted and can focus intensely on the project at hand. 

Constantly taking on extra workload and responding to every help request can lead to burnout and decrease your overall job performance. It's important to find a balance between helping others and prioritizing your own work satisfaction and professional growth.

‎Ac‎hieving balance: How to push back on collaborative time the right way

A McKinsey study identified three critical collaboration interactions that happen at meetings. 

They’re decision-making, creative solutions and coordination, and information sharing. Of these three meeting interactions, decision-making, creative solutions and coordination may require actual meeting time, whether it’s physical or virtual. 

However, we can look at more effective ways to share information with colleagues and clients and cut down on meetings without sacrificing helpfulness. 

Sharing knowledge is still vital to a company’s success, but we should be asking ourselves, “Is there a way to pass on institutional knowledge without overtaxing more tenured employees?”

Sm‎arter approaches to information sharing

Before the rise of the remote workplace, institutional knowledge passed from senior members to new employees more naturally in the office. People could lean over and ask a question when they were sitting only a few desks away in the same space. 

As flexible work arrangements become more normal, new employees may need to schedule longer meetings to get the information they could have gotten in a couple of minutes before. Unfortunately, this eats into the productivity of employees who have institutional knowledge. 

Knowledge-sharing tools like Scribe can be used to build out a comprehensive knowledge base that’s effective and efficient. Scribe makes it easy to turn any work process into a simple step-by-step guide that others can follow.

‎As a result, you can still be helpful and share the knowledge you’ve acquired without having to schedule 15- or 30-minute meetings each time. Once created, a single Scribe can be used multiple times by many employees, so tenured team members don’t have to explain the same process several times over.

St‎rategies for protecting productive work time

While company culture may play a role in the frequency of meetings, you can also take steps to protect your time and ensure that your helpfulness doesn’t interrupt your work. Here are some strategies to consider. 

Use time blocking

Block off time for focused work on your calendar so colleagues can see it and won’t schedule nonurgent meetings. This can even be used on a team-wide or companywide basis. 

In one example, Slack implemented Focus Fridays, where all internal meetings are canceled and employees are encouraged to mute work notifications. When the company surveyed employees, it found that 84% of team members benefited from Focus Fridays.

Set boundaries

Clearly communicate your working hours with managers and team members. Reinforce them by following through with your actions. 

For example, you can prioritize your list of projects and let others know when meeting times will conflict with your high-priority items. If the issue they want to discuss isn’t as urgent, they may be willing to work on it themselves more or meet with you later. (This is especially relevant for remote, flexible and hybrid employees.) 

Create standing meetings

Schedule regular meetings with individuals you work closely with. This can help you avoid unexpected meetings if you encourage them to hold off on nonurgent items until the standing meeting. 

That said, standing meetings should be used carefully. If you have recurring meetings without a clear purpose or agenda, consider removing them from the calendar.

Leverage agendas

Use agendas to create a structure and identify outcomes for meetings. This helps people stick to the agreed-upon length of meetings and stay focused on the goal. 

If you’re not the one hosting, you can ask about the agenda before or at the beginning of the meeting.

Build training tools

Use tools like Scribe to create resources that enable you to share your knowledge and experience without the need for a meeting. Take the time to document your processes and build training guides for the questions you receive most often. 

With Scribe, you can record your screen, annotate the steps and share it with others in a matter of minutes. This early investment can save you valuable time down the road, which you can invest in focused, creative work.

Aleksander K., who works as a regional recruitment lead, explains that Scribe helped him save time by allowing him to “share some workflows and best practices with my team, accelerating onboarding and training of new team members.”

Fi‎nal thoughts on balancing collaborative work with productive time 

It’s only natural to want to help colleagues and pass down the institutional knowledge you have acquired along the way. However, each of us is also responsible for managing our time, which involves protecting time for focused, productive work. 

Individuals and organizations can get more productive time out of each workweek by rethinking the way they share information and taking steps to create uninterrupted work time.

By recognizing that your helpfulness at work is hurting your career, you can prioritize focused, productive work and protect your valuable time. Explore Scribe today to learn more about our time-saving knowledge base tool.

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Scribe automatically generates how-to guides and serves them to your team when they need them most. Save time, stay focused, help others.