Helping your colleagues is also good for your own well-being

Campus Woudestein
Colleagues talking
Alexander Santos Lima

Giving social support is also good for the wellbeing of the support giver, Erasmus School of Social and Behavioral Sciences' Marijntje Zeijen's PhD thesis shows. She studied the conditions that determine whether giving support is effective. Motivation turns out to be important: "If the giver of support is not sincere, giving support makes no sense. Then it costs both the giver and the receiver energy."

Are you bogged down by a project at work, or is your manager making your life miserable? A listening ear from a colleague can mean a lot. Much research has been done on the importance of receiving social support, and in organisational models it is seen as an important resource in the workplace. But what does it do to those who give social support? Research by social psychologist Marijntje Zeijen shows that support givers also benefit from giving support and that it has a positive effect on their own well-being. For her research, she conducted hundreds of questionnaires among the Dutch working population.

Be sincere

Employees who give more support to their colleagues (on a daily basis) satisfy their psychological needs more and have a stronger sense of mattering. As a result, they are also more passionate about their work and experience more positive emotions at home. The PhD student also wants to identify which conditions determine the effect of social support. One striking finding is that motivation is an important factor. Giving support turns out to be effective only if the supporter is sincerely and intrinsically motivated. "If the support giver is not sincere, there is no point in giving support. It costs both the giver and the receiver energy. So this is where we have to stop," says Zeijen.

Marijntje Zeijen, PhD Candidate ESSB

The research shows that it matters who you give the support to. She studied this among police officers. It turned out that giving support to the support giver is less effective if you give the support to colleagues with a lot of need for proof (who like to show how good they are at their job). Furthermore, the study found that employees can increase their own chances of receiving social support by giving support themselves first. "Employees who are obsessive about their own work, or employees who are busy proving themselves to others, are less interesting for their colleagues to support. Colleagues who give support are more likely to continue doing so when they also perceive that they are receiving support."

Timing also important

The PhD student also investigated whether the timing of social support is of influence. Among police officers, who regularly deal with violent incidents, it was found that giving support during peak moments of emotional strain was also more beneficial for support givers. This made them feel more important as support givers and more involved in their work. Zeijen: "That is a valuable insight, especially in policing. It is tough and emotional work and by giving support together you can make the work less stressful."

How important giving support is, was already shown in a 2006 study. It showed that people who received a lot of support and gave little experienced a lot of emotional exhaustion, while people who gave more support than they received actually experienced the lowest emotional exhaustion. "Giving support can enrich your work life. My research shows that it is important to be aware of when and to whom we give that support. So there are conditions that determine whether giving support is effective. It seems valuable to me to further investigate which factors play a role in this."

PhD student
(Marijntje) MEL Zeijen, MSc
More information

PhD Defence

Marijntje Zeijen defends her PhD thesis 'Daily Dyadic Dynamics of Social Support at Work' on Thursday 1 June.

Related content
Candidate will defend her PhD dissertation on Thursday 1 June 2023.
ESSB logo
What is it like to cause a road accident or make a medical error as a doctor? That is what Femke Ruitenbeek investigated in her PhD thesis.
Black Ford car in a crash
In the talk show Studio Erasmus, Chiara de Jong talks about her research in which she asks about the online world of children and teens.
Online bullying in the classroom

Compare @count study programme

  • @title

    • Duration: @duration
Compare study programmes