The Cost of Helping and Why It Can Deplete Community Managers

A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that employees who help others on a daily basis are at a risk of burning out and feeling depleted.  

The study’s abstract reads as follows:

“We find that responding to help requests depletes regulatory resources at an increasing rate, yet perceived prosocial impact of helping can replenish resources. (…) [P]rosocial 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.”

What this is saying is that although helping others usually gives us a sense of satisfaction and positive energy, it also leads to reduced energy levels and a tired mind; especially when helping happens on a constant and repeated basis.

Community managers are the nucleus of any workspace; they are enablers, they are organizers, they are managers, they are many things all at once–and most importantly, they are helpers. Their role is to help members feel comfortable, they help them make better use of the space, and they help solve problems (big and small).

Generally speaking, community managers fall under the category of prosocial employees. Prosocial employees are “people who value helping others and who help on a regular basis.” Community expert, Iris Kavanagh, once shared what she believes are the top 5 qualities of a community manager, and among those being helpful to others is, in Iris’ words, a ‘no-brainer’.

According to the study, prosocial employees are more at risk of feeling depleted after helping others, due to the fact that helping “is so important to their sense of self, so they devote more time and cognitive resources to helping others.” Therefore, their help tends to come at a higher cost, with them feeling significantly exhausted even when their help was beneficial to others.

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Takeaways, Steps, Prevention

Community managers are constantly and consistently helping others–whether it’s re-filling the printer with paper, making the coffee, giving tours, brainstorming ideas, organizing events…they’re always there lending a hand to members and guests alike.

Their energy levels are constantly being used on others, which in the long-run can lead to burnout. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, co-author of the study Klodiana Lanaj delineates some ways in which helpers can continue to assist others without depleting their energy levels .

First, it’s essential that community managers recognize that helping others can have positive and negative effects, especially when done repeatedly.

Second, when community managers are feeling exhausted and depleted, it’s important that they resort to short-term solutions to ‘recharge their batteries. This could be taking a small break, going out for a walk, drinking some coffee, or even napping.

Third, community managers (prosocial employees overall) need to be able to say ‘no’ or “I’ll help you later.”’ This last one will allow community managers to better help others, feel the positive effects of helping, and it’ll also allow them to fulfill their own tasks, responsibilities, and goals.

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