Navigating People in the Workplace: The Helper

While every workplace may not have a helper/nurturer – they sure as heck need one!


Foreword: This blog is part of a series A Leader’s Handbook to Navigating People in the Workplace. The aim of the series to explore the core needs and behaviours of some different personalities in the workforce and provide actionable leadership pointers to growing individuals into the best version of themselves. Much of the content is derived from the Enneagram, and placed into everyday language that can be understood and applied by managers and leaders with no prior knowledge of enneagram literature.


As part of the Managers Survival kit series, this blog examines a personality type within the workplace, and how you can better understand them to operate at their peak performance within your organization.

In this blog, we refer to this kind of person as ‘The Helper”, often affectionately referred to as the “Office Mum”.

As the name suggests, Helpers are those in the workplace who work tirelessly to help others. They are the ultimate team players who will bend over backwards to help other team members… or anyone else for that matter. They are usually empathetic, fantastic listeners and nurture those around them. People naturally gravitate towards them in crisis for support and advice. Other team members know that person is their safety net when work and life pressures get rough. The term is not gender specific, however more often than not Helpers tend to be women.

Helpers very quickly become the backbone of a team. They consistently put in the hard yards, seem to find common ground with the prickliest team members and clients, and are a trusted confidant of many.

However… despite their overwhelming helpfulness and warmth they bring to teams and organizations, these office mom types can create challenges within the team dynamic. In some cases, they can be their own worst enemy and erode morale and trust within a team – usually when they are overworked and have not established boundaries or prioritized much needed time for self-care.

So as team leaders it’s vitally important to ensure we are aware of the potential challenges that come with our Helper staff, and can support them in the right way to ensure they continue to be a curtail asset to the work environment.

The key to understanding Helpers is knowing that – at their core – they need to be needed.
Helping others is their fuel because they love to be depended upon.

Without it they feel lost, and will do almost anything to work their way back into a position where others depend upon them. They may not always admit it, but Helpers are proud of their own dependability, and believe themselves to be tougher than most.

It’s obvious that such people can be easily taken advantage of by others who abuse their selflessness, and managers and team leaders need to be acutely aware of how much they lean on Helpers to run the show.

Eventually everyone snaps under too much pressure – and because the helper has such a high capacity, they fall extra hard when burnout finally catches up with them. Prior to visible burnout, one half of them breaks their back to please, while the less dominant half of them yearns for much needed rest and self-care. This side will begin to develop feelings of resent and lack of appreciation develop beneath the surface. So it should not surprise us when the suddenly snap… But unfortunately it usually does take other team members by surprise after growing accustomed to their dependability.

Another negative behavioral pattern of the Helper that team leaders need to be aware of (especially in younger or less emotionally mature Helpers) is a compulsion to emotionally manipulate. Often this behavior arises when the Helper feels destabilized and uncertain about their job security or when their position of influence is perceived to be under threat (perceived being the key word). They can suck up to power players and be hostile to other team members who threaten the Helper’s position of trusted influence they’ve worked hard to establish.

Actionable ways to lead a Helper into a healthy professional life:

  • Do not abuse their selflessness. In time they need to learn to say “no” to extra commitment. As a leader you can do your part by not overloading them.
  • Help them manage their workload, and gently call them out when they overcommit (which they will frequently do).
  • Remind them of their innate worth as a person (outside of their responsibilities)
  • Don’t be shy to verbalize the appreciation they crave. This has a stabilizing effect on those who are less emotionally mature. Verbal and demonstrative appreciation often mitigates their compulsion to manipulate – especially when it comes from higher up the chain.

Things to say to Helpers:

  • “How are you going? Are you ok?”
  • “What can I take off your plate today?”
  • “What are the challenges you face in your role that you’re afraid to say because it sounds selfish or needy?”
  • “You are an integral part of the team. Thank you for going the extra mile – it really makes a difference to the team.”


Bonus Tip for helping a Helper through burnout

It’s critical to realize that when a Helper is burned out (or approaching that point) “highly emotional outbursts” are predictably inevitable. As a leader, you will need to give them permission and create a safe space for them to verbally process when they are feeling overworked and taken advantage of. Recognize it is a healthy part of the Helper’s process of recovery from burnout.

While their emotional outbursts may seem out of proportion to the event that triggered it, it’s important to recognize it’s the accumulation of many other frustrations expressing themselves in that moment. Be understanding, and don’t make the mistake of writing off their heightened emotions as “unprofessional”. Instead encourage them to process their frustrations more healthily by frequently expressing their frustrations to you in confidence, and thus circumventing the explosive outbursts that rattle other team members.


Managing people and different personalities in business is what can make or break teams and client relationships.


AT UHY Haines Norton we know that long-term success in business is a result of great leadership. We created our Business Improvement and Coaching services to equip business leaders to navigate the challenges of leading a diverse collection of people, overcoming personality differences and cultivating healthy teams.

Talk with us, and let’s discuss how you can get your team functioning at peak health and productivity.

Like this blog? Check out our other Navigating People in the Workplace additions:

Stay tuned for more…

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