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A new employee joined our company 2 months ago. He was a newbie (well, I am not a pro either, but I definitely know more than he does) so he often asked me for help. And today when I arrived at work I noticed that he was absent. When I asked my boss where he was, he said that the newbie had been fired because he was not productive. My boss said I was doing a lot of his work and I had to stay longer at the office to finish my own projects on time. It seems that he was fired because of me and that's not really a good feeling.

Does this mean that we should not help co-workers when they ask for it? What would be best way to tell them that you are not going to help them?

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Sounds like he would have been fired even sooner if you hadn't been helping him so much over these two months. Definitely does not sound like your fault he was fired. –  Carson63000 Jul 27 '12 at 11:30
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I don't follow why you think you had anything to do with the firing. Also, why would this cause you to question whether or not to give help to a co-worker? –  Angelo Jul 27 '12 at 12:52
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The only way you might have any responsibility in this is if you complained extensively to your boss about having to do the new employee's work for him. From your description, it sounds like he got fired despite your help, not because of it. –  David Navarre Jul 27 '12 at 13:40
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Related questions from programmers: programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/103331/… and programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/93227/… –  Chad Jul 27 '12 at 14:54
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@Angelo If I sum-up everything he was not prepared for this work and often asked for code rather then advise. I think this was one of the main problems he had. –  Leri Jul 27 '12 at 15:10
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6 Answers

up vote 39 down vote accepted

Sounds like he was fired because of himself, not you.

Helping others is a good thing - it fosters better team relationships and a better working environment.

Of course, this should not be at the complete expense of your own projects and work. You need to balance both - give help, but not to such an extent that you jeopardize your own work. If your colleague asks for too much, you need to turn them away (politely, if possible - explaining that you also have work to do).

To me it sounds like your former colleague was not productive - possibly because he was new, possibly because he was not competent to do the work.

Chances are good that your boss saw that this individual was constantly asking questions and that you have been doing much of his work for him - as such, he decided to let him go rather than keep him and make you try to do two jobs, and him not doing his work.

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You NEED to help your co-workers when they have problems, ESPECIALLY the new guys. New folks will take some time to come up to speed in any job, and they need the help of the 'old hands' to do so. Helping your co-workers makes for an all-around better workplace, and (usually) makes life better for everyone.

Now, in this case it sounds like your boss wanted the newbie to be up to speed already and got rid of him because he wasn't. We can't say whether that was reasonable of your boss or not, but the problem is between the newbie and your boss - you were doing the right thing. Without your help he'd have never had a chance at all.

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This isn't an absolute. Helping people is not only good, it's required to be a healthy team. As others have said - the trick is that you shouldn't have to help a skilled employee so much that your own work was suffering. If someone knows, in a basic sense, how to do the job, the help provided by coworkers should be fairly brief and focused on providing that small help that the person couldn't know or where having a second set of eyes is helpful.. I use the guideline of within the realm of 5 minutes or an hour a day as "reasonable" in most cases. If my help time for a new employee stays that low, I don't really worry about what kind of help I am giving. When it hits the over an hour a day or over an hour per problem point, I have to figure out - are we solving a problem together or am I doing this guy's work? Solving a problem - always good. Doing his work - not so good. Either way - if you have moved off your regular work for half a day - even if it's solving a really important problem - check in with your manager on priorities.

If you were having to stay late many nights to finish your own work, because you were spending that much time helping this guy - he needed far more help than was reasonable.

As a guideline - good help is:

  • company specific information he couldn't know before starting to work here
  • procedural help the first time, a quick reminder the second time, he should independant more or less by the third.
  • a quick "aha" moment when the answer in plain view, he's just been staring at it too long.
  • a double check of finished work

Not good help is:

  • sitting side by side explaining tasks that should be doable by anyone with this skill set or that could be learned in a course on the topic.
  • in depth conversations about how to do this job that aren't particular to this company
  • almost anything that requires half a day or a day's worth of time in a solid block, unless you checked in with your team lead/boss.
  • having to repeat the same instructions for a common process over and over and over where the coworker shows no signs of learning

Some of this falls into your boss' purview. A senior guy should be a self-starter and not need much help. A newly educated intern may require much more. But the boss had a certain set of expectations when this guy was hired.

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That's a great general guideline. :) –  alfa Jul 27 '12 at 17:12
    
This is a very good answer. One minor improvement is could be improved by 'help should be five minutes to an hour, here or there is too specific. Excellent answer, @bethlakshmi –  James Tikalsky Jul 28 '12 at 14:23
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[My previous comment was submitted prematurely] This is a very good answer and I'm voting it up. I have one small suggestion: Remove the specific length of time that one employee should ideally help another ('help should be five minutes to an hour'). Many companies fail to realize that their process and procedures have grown large and complex, and that outsiders will need a lot of time to come up to speed. Instead of suggesting a specific amount of time to provide help, just recommend that the helpful employee establish the appropriate amount of time with his manager up front. –  James Tikalsky Jul 28 '12 at 14:38
    
Thanks for the thought, James - I'll reword. I was trying to give some sort of a guideline with a real number attached to it that served as a point to look up from the work and say "has helping changed into doing this guy's work?" In the case you mention, the answer would be "no" - but that takes a certain circumstance. –  bethlakshmi Jul 30 '12 at 12:37
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Helping co-workers is a good thing. Helping too much is a bad thing and as you get more experienced you will learn to know when it is time to back away. If you were staying late to get your own work accomplished,you were on the borderline of helping too much. If you didn't get your work accomplished because you were helping, then you have helped too much.

There is a distinction that needs to be made beween people who need some help and those who are helpless. The ones who need some help, don't ask the same question repeatedly. They learn form the help you give them. The helpless just want you to do their work for them. When someone is helpless, the best thing you can do is back off and make them start to learn it on their own or get fired. It sounds as if your boss determined that your co-worker was in the helpless category. These people suck the life out of a team and cause a lot of resentment, it is best to get rid of them as soon as you are sure that is what you have.

You did the right thing - you tried to help, you got your own work done and thus you probaly impressed your boss. Your co-worker just wasn't getting it and his inability to do the work, was probably slowing the work down. It was in no way your fault that he got fired. It was his fault.

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I think it is sad that your supervisor let this go to the point where the only feedback you got was after this person was fired. You need to be managing your time, so you need to know much sooner if your boss feels your time is being wasted.

Everyone on your team needs to get on the same page. If the leader's plan is to make new hires sink or swim with no help, there's not much you can do about it. If you feel like some sort of mentorship program should be setup, make sure you address the amount of time that can be allocated.

It's hard to attract talent, so any help that can get someone over the hump should be considered.

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The operative word is 'help.' Yes, you should always help when somebody is in a jam, but you should also communicate that you're doing that so managers can set expectations.

Judging by your comments, this coworker wasn't asking for your help. They were asking you do their work. And no, you shouldn't be doing that.

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