Occupational stress and failures of social support: When helping hurts

N. A. Bowling, Terry A Beehr, Misty Marie Bennett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

134 Scopus citations


Research, theory, and practice generally assume that contact with others, often characterized as social support, is beneficial to the recipient. The current study, however, explores the possibility that workplace social interactions, even if intended to be helpful, can sometimes be harmful. University employees (N = 403) completed an online survey examining three types of potentially supportive interactions with other people in the workplace that might be harmful: Interactions that make the person focus on how stressful the workplace is, help that makes the recipient feel inadequate or incompetent, and help that is unwanted. Results suggest that these types of social interactions at work were indeed likely to be related to worse rather than to improved psychological and physical health. The most potentially harmful forms of these three social interactions were those that drew the person's attention to stress in the workplace. These results indicate that in some instances social interactions, even if ostensibly helpful, may be harmful.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-59
JournalJournal of occupational health psychology
StatePublished - 2010


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