How To Ask for Help at Work

Updated February 27, 2023

In your professional life, you might find that you need to ask for help, regardless of how much experience you have in your field. Asking for help at work can be challenging, but you can build your skills and develop stronger relationships with your coworkers when you do.

In this article, we discuss why asking for help is important and how to ask for help, then provide some situations where you should reach out for assistance.

Related: How to Professionally Ask for Feedback

Why is asking for help at work important?

Asking for help at work is important because you can:

Help build a collaborative work environment

Asking for help can foster a collaborative work environment by sharing skills between colleagues. The process can build goodwill between you and your coworkers as you recognize their expertise and reinforce that your team is working toward the same goals.

Learn new skills

Asking for help can provide you with new skills as you take your coworkers' advice. You may learn how to use new tools or explore the functions of the tools you use every day. You can also learn how to troubleshoot as you and your colleagues work through the problem.

Better manage your workload

You can more effectively manage your workload by exploring what led to you being overwhelmed, and you can work with your supervisors and coworkers on how to design more efficient scheduling. You may also find that some of your coworkers handle tasks better than others, which can lead to more even distribution of work.

Develop stronger relationships with your coworkers and supervisors

You can develop stronger relationships by acknowledging your colleagues' specializations and expertise while working toward a common goal. Many people enjoy helping their peers, and asking for help can build those relationships.

Improve productivity and efficiency

Asking for help allows your coworkers to recognize your limitations and build stronger workflows for the team. Sharing challenges in the productivity and operations processes when they occur can improve productivity for the company overall.

Get a better understanding of work expectations and processes

Asking for help can help you determine what your colleagues and supervisors expect from a project or process. This may be especially true if you are working on complex or new projects.

How to ask for help

Here are some tips on how to ask for help at work:

1. Create a list of things you tried and potential solutions

Your coworkers and supervisors may be more likely to help you if you have tried to resolve the issue and have some possible solutions you can try. Doing so shows that you have tried to manage the challenge on your own and gives your colleague a place to start when they offer suggestions. Having these prepared as you approach your colleagues for assistance also shows your competence and problem-solving skills while giving them insight into the kind of issue you are having.

2. Consider your timing

When you ask for help, you can check with your coworker or manager to see if they have a moment to assist. You can let them know if it is or isn't an emergency and ask if they can schedule a time to meet with you. You can decide how to contact your colleague based on the urgency of the situation as well. For example, you can call them or send a work chat if you need a more immediate response, or send an email if you have more time to wait for a reply.

3. Carefully choose who you ask

When you are considering who to ask for help, you should choose someone who has expertise with your problem. They might know how to find the answer to your question or be familiar with the tools you are using. When you approach them for assistance, you can tell them that you appreciate their knowledge and experience. Doing so can help build a collaborative relationship and help them feel acknowledged for their skills.

Related: How to Ask Someone to Be Your Mentor

4. Be specific in your request

Being specific in your request helps your colleague or supervisor know what you are expecting from the conversation and what you are trying to solve. This kind of specificity gives your coworker context and a starting point for collaboration and lets them know how much time they have to answer. Here are some details you should tell include in your request:

  • How soon you need the answer

  • A short overview of the project, for example, "I'm working on reconciling the contractor accounts."

  • The specific problem you are having

  • A brief list of what you have tried

  • Any error codes you are getting

  • The kind of help you are asking for (like physical assistance, tools or advice)

5. Use a collaborative approach

When you approach your colleagues and supervisors with a collaborative mindset, you show them that you are engaged in the problem-solving process. Your coworkers will likely appreciate the communication, and you are often more likely to remember the solution when you work it out together. This collaboration may also lead to developing new processes that can prevent a similar problem from happening later on.

Read More: Collaboration Skills: Definition and Examples

6. Be available to help

There will likely be a time when your coworker needs help solving a problem, too. When you help your colleagues, you are contributing to a work environment centered on teamwork. You also build goodwill with your team, which can help them be more inclined to help you in the future.

When you should ask for help

Here are some situations when you should reach out to your coworkers or supervisor for assistance.

You aren't sure how to proceed

Your colleagues or supervisors can help you if you are working on a complicated project and aren't sure what to do next. Situations like this can help you find a mentor and build a stronger relationship with your senior coworkers. When you reach out to them, they might be able to:

  • Offer advice on how to approach the project

  • Clarify their expectations of you

  • Provide helpful tools and tricks

  • Guide your research by offering keywords and resources

You made a mistake

When you find you made an error you aren't sure how to fix, you should reach out to your supervisor or senior colleagues to help fix the problem. Mistakes can be important learning experiences, and you build skills when you work with colleagues to resolve such issues. Asking for help when you make a mistake can also help you develop problem-solving strategies.

Related: Steps to Take After Making Mistakes at Work

You have overcommitted yourself

It's important to reach out to your supervisors and colleagues when you have overcommitted. When you let them know that you are having a difficult time meeting deadlines or have too many projects, they might be able to:

  • Give you extra resources

  • Help directly by taking over some or all of a project

  • Offer tools and advice on how to approach your workload

  • Adjust deadlines and priorities to accommodate you

You need additional expertise

Sometimes, you may need to get more detail on a part of your project and you aren't able to find the answer you are looking for. You can reach out to your colleagues for their skills and insight. Doing so can help them feel appreciated for their expertise and you can continue building a positive, collaborative work environment.


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