Saying “No” at Work: The Psychological and Behavioral Consequences of Help Request Rejection

Prof. Katrina Lin
Associate Professor
Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Date: 27 October 2023 (Friday)
Time: 10:30 am – 12:00 pm
Venue: E22-G015
Host: Prof. Kraivin CHINTAKANANDA, Assistant Professor of Management
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Over the past two decades, research has extensively explored the dark side of helping coworkers. Recognizing the personal costs associated with assisting others at work, researchers and executive coaches have advocated for employees to confidently decline help requests, emphasizing the potential benefits of doing so. However, empirical examinations of the implications of rejecting coworkers’ help requests (i.e., help request rejection) at work remain rare. Drawing on identity threat theory, we question the prevailing notion that help request rejection benefits the request recipients and examine whether and when rejecting help requests might engender psychological burden (i.e., prosocial identity threat), which predicts downstream work-related consequences. Across two studies, including a time-lagged field study and a pre-registered scenario-based experiment, we find that rejecting coworkers’ help requests results in higher prosocial identity threat, which then leads to disparate outcomes (i.e., increased public, rather than private, helping and poorer task performance). These effects are more pronounced in request recipients with a stronger prosocial helping identity or those who perceive a higher level of helping pressure within their team. Theoretical and practical implications for helping decisions, prosocial identity, and identity threat management are discussed.


Dr. Katrina Lin is an Associate Professor of Management at the Faculty of Business at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. She received her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from National University of Singapore in 2017. Dr. Lin’s research interests include coworker interpersonal interactions, with a focus on helping interactions, emotions, and work-family interface. Her research has been published in the Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Applied Psychology, and Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, among others.

 All are welcome!