In my personal life, helping others has always had a high priority. Whether it was part of the Midwestern landscape of my youth or a hallmark of the spiritual training from my parents and church, coming early or staying late to set up chairs or wash dishes was just what we did.
But in my work life, I haven’t always been so generous with my time.
Part of my hesitation stemmed from an immature view of work responsibilities. Once, during a work review very early in my professional life, I was told that other employees didn’t think I was very flexible and willing to help. I didn’t disagree. I had thought that if I helped them, it would mean compromising the time I had to commit to my own workload. Wouldn’t that be detrimental to the company?
Another reason I was reluctant to be too helpful at work was the fear that I wouldn’t get enough of the credit for the job, or worse, that my helpfulness would leave me stuck doing tasks that I didn’t even like or that were beneath my pay grade. Both have happened to me. And I feel like a heel even mentioning it.
Over the years, though, being helpful at work is a value I have grown into.
Recently, I was standing just outside my boss’s office, waiting for her current conversation to finish up so I could speak with her about a report request she had submitted. The coworker she was talking to mentioned a training class on pivot tables she was going to attend. Having sat in on the class myself a couple of months earlier, I knew that my experience with pivot tables exceeded that of the instructor. I could probably show her more about the program in less time than what she would learn in the class.
Before checking my calendar or reviewing other projects I was working on, and before even asking my boss, who was sitting right there, I poked my head in and offered to help.
“I could teach you what you need to know,” I told her. “I think I know more about pivot tables than the instructor since I use them all the time.” I wasn’t bragging. It was true.
“Really?” she said. “That would be great.”
“I think I even have a training manual on pivot tables that I created for another project; you could probably use it, too,” I added. She was thrilled.
As I walked back to my desk, I wondered whether I would actually have time to do the training with her. Several big projects were looming and getting pushed back as it was. Somehow, though, I knew I would find the time.
The truth is, being helpful often is more an attitude than an action. I don’t have to offer to do other people’s work or tasks I don’t like in order to be helpful. Doing my own work excellently and efficiently, using all my creativity and kindness in the process, can be really helpful to my coworkers.
When helpfulness does require extra effort, I can make exceptions to protocols, when necessary, and stay late, when possible. I can fill out the forms that my coworker forgot, or send a link to an article she will find interesting. I can even set aside my own work, if it’s not urgent, and offer to help with her looming deadline. This time. Next time, she’ll help me.
That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned: being part of a team often means that helping others IS my job.