Being proactive and choosing to help colleagues is good for your motivation, your creativity, and well-being, according to Harvard Business Review’s “The Big Idea”. However, Ad hoc requests to help is listed as one of the biggest drains on energy and time, especially for managerial and professional workers.

Helping others drives the success of teams and businesses, but it is important to note that the rewards of generosity were not created equal. In the New York Times, Sheryl Sandberg wrote:

 “In their quest to care for others, women often sacrifice themselves. For every 1,000 people at work, 80 more women than men burn out — in large part because they fail to secure their own oxygen masks before assisting others.” 

The impact is two-fold as women are statistically more likely to get involved in helping others and doing “office housework” such as taking meeting notes. But, they get less credit when they do compared to their male counterparts. 

A man who doesn’t help is “busy”; a woman is “selfish.”

In a bid to balance your generosity with self-preservation, you might invest time in producing your own FAQ repository of wisdom that you copy and paste from. Or, you could take note of HBR’s helpful 7 habits of highly productive giving:

  1. Prioritize the help requests that come your way — say yes when it matters most and no when you need to
  2. Give in ways that play to your interests and strengths to preserve your energy and provide greater value
  3. Distribute the giving load more evenly — refer requests to others when you don’t have the time or skills, and be careful not to reinforce gender biases about who helps and how
  4. Secure your oxygen mask first — you’ll help others more effectively if you don’t neglect your own needs
  5. Amplify your impact by looking for ways to help multiple people with a single act of generosity
  6. Chunk your giving into dedicated days or blocks of time rather than sprinkling it throughout the week. You’ll be more effective — and more focused
  7. Learn to spot takers, and steer clear of them. They’re a drain on your energy, not to mention a performance hazard

What is important though, is that we encourage everyone (male and female) to be helpful, and reward them equally when they do.