Proof that helping people can be a total waste of time and money

No doubt you’ve heard the buzz-phrase that you’re part of a larger team at your company. Everyone works together to make sure things are running smoothly and everyone looks out for each other. As it turns out, according to two separate studies, that approach may be taxing on IT staff- sorry, team members.

For example, if you have a staffer who drops everything to help users when a problem arises, you may be inclined to reward that behavior.

But according to a poll conducted by Firemon, a company that provides management solution services, it’s probably the wrong staffer being asked for help, and according to another study conducted by Michigan State University (MSU), it depends on what time that staffer is being asked to help.

Of the IT security pros polled by Firemon, 83% said they help out users with non-security-related issues each week. And of those who admitted to being helpful, 80% spend at least an hour a week helping users and another 8% spent more than five hours lending help. All for non-security work.

Probably overqualified for that line of work

Those hours add up – and end up costing the company big.

Especially when you consider, on average, security pros can be paid $55/hour (according to Glassdoor) to make sure your systems are well protected and company data is secure, they can’t be hauled away for just any user-issue. So when users don’t understand the difference between each role in your department and just grab the nearest “tech guy,” they’re not just wasting time and money – they’re jeopardizing security.

But users aren’t the only ones who can drain a team. If a staffer helps another team member out first thing in the morning, they’re more likely to turn into a toxic staffer by the afternoon, in a sort of Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde arrangement.

You’d think it’s the opposite, starting off on an altruistic foot first thing, but the research from MSU states that if you help another person in the morning, you’re more likely to be selfish later on. The idea is that the more “other” focused a day starts off with, the more “self” focused it turns into later one, leading to longer breaks, less time spent helping others, and it makes even something like idea theft more plausible.

Help in the morning, toxic by the afternoon

But it’s often difficult to say “no” to someone in need, especially if company culture frowns upon it. So does that mean an afternoon is doomed after a particularly helpful morning? Should staffers stop helping users and cite how much money each non-security issue is costing the company?

That’s probably not the best idea, no.

It’s suggested that, after helping someone out, a five minute break immediately follow. Whether that means getting a fresh cup of coffee or laughing at a meme (or two or five or let’s face it, a dozen) or just taking a short stroll around the building – that’s all up to personal preference.

The bottom line is: Focus on something non-work related, then return to work revived.

That little bit of self-care can save some headaches down the line when people are tempted to act out for feeling run-down.

As for the users who just grab anybody associated with tech to assist them, issue a reminder to your staff that all users should be putting in tickets in order to get help. Then don’t let the guy responsible for system network analysis jump in to “fix” the printer by putting more paper in it.