Helping may be Harming: unintended negative consequences of providing social support

Cheryl E. Gray, Paul E. Spector, Kayla N. Lacey, Briana G. Young, Scott T. Jacobsen, Morgan R. Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


While social support is generally considered a helpful resource for employees, it can also serve as a job stressor. Unhelpful workplace social support (UWSS) is any action taken by a supervisor and/or colleague that the recipient believes was intended to benefit him or her but is perceived as unhelpful or harmful. Two studies, one qualitative and one quantitative, identified types of UWSS and demonstrated that unhelpful support can operate as a job stressor in relating to strains. In Study 1, critical incidents were collected from 116 employees, and a content analysis revealed 11 distinct categories of UWSS. In Study 2, the taxonomy of UWSS was further refined using quantitative methods. Results of two samples (176 diverse employees and 496 registered nurses) demonstrate that UWSS is associated with higher job-related negative affect, lower competence-based self-esteem, lower coworker satisfaction, higher work-related burnout, higher organisational frustration, and more physical symptoms (e.g. headache, nausea, and fatigue) among recipients. Together, the studies demonstrate that unhelpful workplace social support is a meaningful job stressor worthy of further investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-385
Number of pages27
JournalWork and Stress
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2020


  • Social support
  • qualitative methods
  • scale development


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