When Lending a Hand Depletes the Will:
The Daily Costs and Benefits of Helping
University of Florida
Russell E. Johnson
Michigan State University
University of Florida
Employees help on a regular daily basis while at work, yet surprisingly little is known about how
responding to help requests affects helpers. Although recent theory suggests that helping may come at a
cost to the helper, the majority of the helping literature has focused on the benefits of helping. The current
study addresses the complex nature of helping by simultaneously considering its costs and benefits for
helpers. Using daily diary data across 3 consecutive work weeks, we examine the relationship between
responding to help requests, perceived prosocial impact of helping, and helpers’ regulatory resources. We
find that responding to help requests depletes regulatory resources at an increasing rate, yet perceived
prosocial impact of helping can replenish resources. We also find that employees’ prosocial motivation
moderates these within-person relationships, such that prosocial employees are depleted to a larger extent
by responding to help requests, and replenished to a lesser extent by the perceived prosocial impact of
helping. Understanding the complex relationship of helping with regulatory resources is important
because such resources have downstream effects on helpers’ behavior in the workplace. We discuss the
implications of our findings for both theory and practice.
Keywords: helping, resource depletion, experience sampling, perceived prosocial impact, prosocial
Helping coworkers with work-related problems—a type of or-
ganizational citizenship behavior—is a pervasive phenomenon that
has received considerable attention in the management literature
(Burke, 1982;Burke, Weir, & Duncan, 1976;Podsakoff, MacK-
enzie, Paine, & Bachrach, 2000;Van Dyne & LePine, 1998).
Underscoring the prevalence of helping in work contexts, recent
studies find that helping occurs daily and frequently among co-
workers (Dalal, Lam, Weiss, Welch, & Hulin, 2009;Glomb,
Bhave, Miner, & Wall, 2011;Johnson, Lanaj, & Barnes, 2014).
The predominant view in this literature is that helping has
positive consequences for the beneficiaries of such actions,
whether they are individuals, groups, or organizations (Podsa-
koff & MacKenzie, 1997;Podsakoff, Whiting, Podsakoff, &
Blume, 2009). What is less well-understood, however, are the
consequences for benefactors—that is, the employees who pro-
vide help. Given that the majority of helping (75–90%) occurs
in response to help requests by coworkers (Grant & Hofmann,
2011), understanding how responding to help requests affects
helpers is a critical line of inquiry that has the potential to
advance both theory and practice (Grant & Hofmann, 2011;
Spitzmuller & Van Dyne, 2013).
The limited amount of research focusing on helpers suggests
that helping is beneficial for helpers because it improves their
well-being (e.g., Glomb et al., 2011;Weinstein & Ryan, 2010).
Recent theoretical work, however, has raised some doubts con-
cerning this perspective. Several scholars (e.g., Bergeron, 2007;
Bergeron, Shipp, Rosen, & Furst, 2013;Bolino & Turnley, 2005)
have argued that helping may carry personal costs to helpers
because it consumes valuable attentional and regulatory resources,
which would otherwise be devoted to more personally instrumen-
tal work behaviors. Empirical evidence regarding the effects of
helping on helpers is also equivocal. While some studies report
beneficial effects for helpers (e.g., Glomb et al., 2011;Weinstein
& Ryan, 2010), several other studies report null or detrimental
effects (Bergeron et al., 2013;Conway, Rogelberg, & Pitts, 2009).
One explanation for this inconsistent evidence is that helping may
have curvilinear effects on outcomes (Rubin, Dierdorff, & Bach-
rach, 2013). That is, whereas responding to a few help requests
may do little harm, the demands of frequent helping may become
Editor’s Note. Sabine Sonnentag served as the action editor for this
This article was published Online First May 5, 2016.
Klodiana Lanaj, Department of Management, Warrington College of
Business Administration, University of Florida; Russell E. Johnson, De-
partment of Management, Eli Broad College of Business, Michigan State
University; Mo Wang, Department of Management, Warrington College of
Business Administration, University of Florida.
We would like to thank Yihao Liu and Joel Koopman for their helpful
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Klodiana
Lanaj, Department of Management, Warrington College of Business Ad-
ministration, University of Florida, STZ 229, Gainesville, FL 32611.
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
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Journal of Applied Psychology © 2016 American Psychological Association
2016, Vol. 101, No. 8, 1097–1110 0021-9010/16/$12.00 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/apl0000118