Why people don’t ask for help at work

Employees may avoid asking for help in the workplace because they doubt it will be effective, new research from HEC Paris suggests.

 
I can’t think of many people who can do their jobs without helpProfessor Daniel Newark

Professor Daniel Newark, and coauthors Vanessa Bohns and Francis Flynn, found that besides the costs – notably, the discomfort and stress – of requesting help, expectations about the outcome of the help also determine whether we ask. This means not only the anticipated likelihood of getting help, but also the anticipated value of it – how helpful will the help actually be? 

The researchers found that help-seekers underestimate the lengths to which others will go when they agree to help us.

“We feel a sense of responsibility, an obligation to follow through,” says Newark. “I can't think of many people who can do their jobs without help. At some point, most of us come across tasks that we’re not sure how to carry out. Help — both giving and receiving it — makes us feel good, reminding us that we are part of a community.”

He adds that organisations could function better with help going back and forth more freely. The less friction there is in asking for help, the easier it can be for resources such as information, expertise, and effort to find their way to where they are needed. 

After an initial pilot study of 99 participants, Newark and his colleagues carried out four different studies to reach these conclusions. The paper was published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 

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