The Dark Side of Helping: Does Returning the Favor from Coworkers Hurt Employee Work Engagement?

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Journal of Business and Psychology

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This study investigated the potential "dark side" of helping behavior at work -- operationalized as provision of social support to coworkers. Drawing from the emotional contagion literature and Conservation of Resources (COR) theory, we proposed and tested a moderated mediational model to examine the mechanisms by which social support received from one's coworkers contribute to the support recipient's work engagement. Employing data from a 12-week-long weekly diary among 142 acute care nurses, we did not find support for the proposed negative relationship between providing social support to coworkers and support providers' work engagement, nor for the overall mediational effect of the relationship between received coworker support and work engagement through support provision. However, we found that some work contextual factors (i.e., stable social support climates from coworkers and supervisors) moderated the weekly processes through which nurses' repaying social support received from coworkers predicts their subsequent work engagement. Specifically, providing support to coworkers had stronger beneficial effects on providers' engagement when coworker/supervisor support climates were relatively low; support received from coworkers had stronger indirect beneficial effects on nurses' engagement when coworker/supervisor support climates were relatively low. Our study findings highlight the complexity of the relationship between social support dynamics and work engagement, and that emotional contagion and COR theory may be insufficient, on their own, to explain social support dynamics between coworkers. We also discuss implications of the findings for managerial practices related to support dynamics at work.



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