Lee, Y. E., Simon, L. S., Koopman, J., Rosen, C. C., Gabriel, A. S., & Yoon, S. (2022). When, why, and for whom is receiving help actually helpful? Differential effects of receiving empowering and nonempowering help based on recipient gender. Journal of Applied Psychology.

Helping is a foundational aspect of organizational life and the prototypical organizational citizenship behavior, with most research implicitly assuming that helping benefits its recipients. Despite this, when scholars focus on help recipients, the experience is depicted as somewhat aversive that may actually reduce recipient perceptions of competence. The result is a literature at odds as to whether receiving help is beneficial. Our thesis is that this is the wrong question on which to focus. Instead, we submit that more valuable insight can be gained by asking: “when is receiving help beneficial vs. not beneficial, and for whom?” Regarding when, we differentiate between receiving help that is empowering (i.e., offers tools to empower recipients to become more self-reliant) or nonempowering (i.e., offers only immediate, short-term solutions). Regarding for whom, we draw 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 nonempowering help specifically and competence perceptions. We present a multistudy “full-cycle” approach to test our hypotheses and understand the consequences of receiving empowering versus nonempowering help in more depth. Combined, our results help shift the conversation as noted above, and identify important practical implications that speak to a larger discussion on systematic disadvantages for women at work.