Altruism is a great thing. Helping out our fellow human beings is what keeps the great wheels of society turning.\nBut can we be too helpful? Is there a point at which giving assistance becomes detrimental, both to the party requesting help and to the party giving it?\nSurveys and studies conducted over the past few years seem to indicate there is such a point, and it might be easier to reach than we suspected.\nLet\u2019s take a serious look at helping out our co-workers. We\u2019re not here to suggest you stop lending a hand where it\u2019s needed \u2014 far from it! But it\u2019s definitely worth your while to consider the frequency with which you render that help \u2014 and the negative effects it might be having, even when your intentions are as pure as the driven snow.\nLet\u2019s crunch the numbers\nNone of what we\u2019ll be discussing will have the weight it\u2019s due without delving into some empirical data first. So what have recent studies uncovered about helpfulness in the workplace?\nIn a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Michigan State University researchers surveyed 68 people over the course of 15 work days, and their findings suggest that the altruistic among us should exercise caution before agreeing to help co-workers, according to Michigan State's MSU Today website. The study participants,\u00a0who work in a number of dissimilar industries, filled out surveys that asked questions such as \u201cToday, I went out of my way to help co-workers who asked for my help\u201d and also measured their feelings of \u201cdepletion.\u201d The results suggest that helping others can leave us feeling depleted and less effective at work.\nIf you can\u2019t do it well, don\u2019t do it at all\nNot everybody is a born teacher. In fact, more than a few of us can probably testify to this with the help of some unpleasant grade school memories. The lesson here is to not go out of your way to teach if you don\u2019t have a teacher\u2019s temperament.\nSomething that appears obvious to you may not be obvious to your co-workers. As a result, you might unkowingly take a condescending or impatient tone when you're just trying to be helpful by pointing something out to a colleague. If you catch yourself doing this \u2014 if you have a tendency to talk down to people, even while you\u2019re helping them \u2014 you need to revisit your motivations and possibly stop trying to help altogether.\nDon\u2019t make your life harder than it needs to be\nIf you\u2019re gainfully employed, you\u2019re probably an adult and your co-workers are probably adults, and adults should know how to learn on their own. Besides possibly stunting the natural growth process of the people you work with, being a little too helpful also raises the risk of making your life harder than it needs to be. You\u2019ll run yourself ragged, blast through your own workday and potentially fall behind on your own responsibilities.\nReally take stock of the amount of time you\u2019re spending on your work versus helping your co-workers with theirs. Don\u2019t think for a moment that there can be an equitable balance here \u2014 you obviously need to prioritize your responsibilities over theirs.\nThe point is, if the demands on your time are getting out of control, it\u2019s time to politely back off and let people learn on their own.\nSo how often should you help, really?\nWith the data and the caveats out of the way, you\u2019ve probably inched toward closure on the question posed in the title: Just how often should I help the people I work with?\nThe answer is, of course, deceptively simple: You should help out as much as you can without negatively affecting your own sanity and without stunting your co-workers\u2019 growth.\nAs he so often does, Aristotle has some sage words of wisdom on this exact subject:\n\u201cFor the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.\u201d\nIs that a paradox? Maybe it is. But it makes a lot of sense \u2014 sense that\u2019s backed up by science. \u201cExperiential learning\u201d refers to precisely this: the act of \u201clearning through reflection on doing.\u201d And by doing something for somebody else, you\u2019re robbing them of that wealth of experiential, well, experience.\nOf course, how you help is also of great significance. If a child asked for your help with a math problem, you wouldn\u2019t dream of just banging out the equation and handing the answer to him. He'd be back the next day with another head-scratcher. No, the only responsible thing to do is to teach the child how to find the answer on his own.\nDon\u2019t hand out answers \u2014 hand out a map and compass.\nIt\u2019s the whole \u201cteaching a man to fish\u201d thing. Are we mixing our metaphors? That\u2019s fine \u2014 you probably get the point.\nLifelong learners\nLife on this planet is full of opportunities to learn new things and have brand-new experiences. In a way, teaching people things prescribes knowledge while at the same time robbing them of the pursuit of knowledge.\nThat might sound cynical, but consider for a moment how many school students decide they hate even the idea of learning new things. Learning can be hard, but it\u2019s made delicious again by being pursued by choice.\nSo don\u2019t give lectures in the workplace \u2014 drop breadcrumbs instead. If you know something someone else does not, by all means give them a hand, but don\u2019t prescribe or evangelize. Help them get back in touch with the joy of discovery.