asking for help at work

How to ask for help at work

Christina Omlor

Asking for help is, unfortunately, something that many of us struggle with especially when times are tough. In the light of the coronavirus outbreak and the measures laid out by states and cities regarding many employers are maximizing the hours they need their employees to work and piling on more work than ever before. 

Add understaffing and a lack of resources it’s easy to see why many essential workers are feeling stressed, depressed and anxious. That being said, one of the best ways to lower your stress levels is to learn how to ask for, and accept, help from your manager or team. 58% of all full-working Americans feel, that this is possible.1 Creating a supportive workplace will benefit you in the long run. Here is why it is important and how to do so. 

Why is it important to ask for help in times of crisis?

In times of crisis many people resort to keeping their heads down and focusing on getting things done with minimal communication. Although it may feel like this is the best way to get through it, it’s actually more important for you to do the opposite and communicate more than ever. Not only will this speed up the process, it will also help your team members and manager to manage expectations and to create a supportive culture in which everyone can pull together in spite of the challenges you face. 

How to ask for help properly:

Is your workload overwhelming and not realistic within your current schedule? Asking for help from your colleagues and supervisor can help to shift the stress from one set of shoulders onto many and open the discussion for restructuring current processes. This is also a great chance to improve and show strength. But how can you ask for help without to appear incompetent?

1. Offer solutions not problems

In overwhelming situations, addressing a certain or specific problem may feel like a distraction for your coworkers. Make sure to state the problem, your possible way of solving it and ask for a different perspective. Don’t ask for them to solve your problem specifically, instead ask for their support in finding a solution.

2. Be clear why you need help

Just stating: ” I am confused” will rarely get you the help you need to solve your problem. Instead be specific. What exactly isn’t working? What do you need and for which tasks? How do you think your team or manager can help you? Being specific will help your co-worker to help you more easily. Remember, they might be overwhelmed, too.

3. Don’t set a trap

While it might be easy to use wording like “may I ask you a favor…” or “just a tiny question…” or even “I feel terrible asking you this…” these phrases can be perceived negatively before you’ve even started. It may make your co worker feel obliged to help you, not knowing if they will succeed. It also suggests a certain dependency. Try focusing on the positive outcome of the help by using reinforcements like “can we find a way through this together?” Simply using the word “together” can have a hugely positive effect.2

4. Follow up

Psychologists see it as a deep human motivation to feel effective – for people to see the impact of their aid. So be sure to include that in your request for help, try to ensure that they know that their help matters. For example: “Can you review my report? Your comments last time made a real difference.” If possible, follow up and explain how their help made a real difference.


Asking for help is a sign of a healthy working environment

If you are able to ask for help and know that your colleagues will back you up and help you out, you can consider yourself very lucky that your employer has built such a healthy working environment. Being able to rely on your co-workers builds a more sustainable team spirit which is also great for your employer. When you feel supported, you’re more able to give your best every day, increase your productivity and go above and beyond.

How it can support your Mental Health

In addition to partial or full lockdowns, the feeling of isolation may arise and will increase with increasing workload. Being in contact with people will take some of the load off of you and enable you to interact. An important factor to the feeling of control ,that it lacks of in situations like these. Feeling valued, seen and heard is key and will support your overall well being. 


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1 Ipsos Poll

Harvard Business Review