How to Ask For Help at Work


Forget your fear of asking for help and set up your peer-to-peer support network

Burnout, 66% of us claim to have suffered from it at work. The simplest solution is to share the load by asking for help however most of us just take on more, fearful of appearing less competent or not efficient enough,  However, relying on a peer-to-peer support network can not only maximise your output at work, but also increase your job satisfaction through meaningful and supportive relationships with your colleagues and managers – that have truly stood the test of a (dead)line!

In this article we look at how to avoid burnout by identifying the warning signs and offering a strategy for seeking help, without feeling any less competent or useful. In fact we will learn that by asking for help, you can become both a better worker and more importantly, a happier human. 

Why does no-one seem to need any help? 

For an innately collaborative species, it’s strange that in the average workplace, nobody ever seems to need any help with their insurmountable to-do lists that they seem to handle so seamlessly… However, if you look a little closer you’ll soon realise that this is often a facade. As already stated 66% of us claim to experience burnout from time to time and yet we are just soldiering on. Why? Because we are all our own worst enemy in this regard. A highly trained troupe of actors!

A can do, positive attitude is usually highly regarded in most workplaces, as it should be – but by always saying yes and taking on more work and responsibility many of us get stuck in a hole of our own making, taking on more than we can handle. 

For most of us, we do this because to admit that we can’t take on any more work, or to require help terrifies us. The very prospect is synonymous with a lack of competence and weakness. As Harvard Business Review explains, the social threats involved with asking for help, such as the potential for diminished status or inherent relinquishing of autonomy, activate the same brain regions that physical pain does. Ouch! 

So reprogram yourself away from the help equals insufficiency model, back towards our more natural inclinations of teamwork or to divide and conquer. Imagine the innovation and problem solving we could achieve in a much shorter time frame when we are open to collaboration and help.

How do I know when to ask for help?

Having a full to-do list is normal. There’s a reason busy individuals keep getting given more to do, while the idle remain idle - it’s because they’re the most productive. Take it as a compliment! However know your limits and boundaries, everyone has a tipping point at which more work leads to mistakes and a rushed job, not to mention the impact on your precious time. But how do you know when you’ve taken on too much? 

Step back and consider your task list. Prioritise your tasks and work out what you can realistically get done within deadline. Stay true to your timeframes. If writing a blog properly takes you half the day, then don’t expect to be able to crack out two in one afternoon. If deadlines are pressing, it’s probably time to ask for help.

Share your priorities list with your manager. At first everything will seem equally as important, but get tough with yourself and list out which you think should probably come first. At this stage, it’s always good to cross-check your priorities with your manager to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Keep in mind that they may not even realise the pressure you are under, and may be able to help shift and lighten your load with just a quick to-do list review. 

If the problem is less about workload and more that you are struggling with a specific task, try the three strike rule. If you have attacked the problem with three different solutions and you still aren’t getting anywhere, then it’s probably time to reach out for help. Your manager  will appreciate that you have had a crack at it, and likely offer some alternative solutions or ideas.

You don’t always have to go straight to your manager either. If you are nervous about asking for help, try one of your direct colleagues for some quiet support. Just make sure you do so with the right approach.  Most team members will be honoured you have reached out to them and do the same the next time they may be struggling.

Be precise in what you are asking for, if you are going to ask for help, don’t waste their time, cut to the chase. Don’t forget to sing their praises high and low afterwards, it’s a win win, your helpful colleague will appreciate it and your manager will think highly of your initiative to get the job done. Most importantly, return the favour. The more you do so, the more willing others will be to help you out in future.

Asking for help is often a tricky thing to do, as most don’t want to appear incompetent or burden their managers or peers. However the thing is, the person you ask won't be thinking that at all. People get a kick out of helping others, it’s a great human trait, you’re actually making their day better - crazy! Just bear in mind that they also like to see the impact of the help they provide - a little message of thanks goes a long way!

Ditch the overtime and get back to being the best you.

So, If you are able to overcome the fear and ask for help, then you can say goodbye to the late night scrambles and get back to enjoying your work and life beyond it. The first step is understanding that it is not your manager who swamps you with work, It’s you! 

Stop taking on more than you can handle, and become the most efficient and productive worker you can be. Your manager doesn’t need you to say yes to everything, what they really need is a yes I can, when you mean it. 
What’s next? If you’re looking to build confidence, leadership and the skills you require to perform at your peak in your work and in life, Wellineux’s Executive Mentoring Program might just interest you. Sign up today for a free 15 minute mentor chat and see where the conversation takes you. Learn More