Why You Should Ask for Help At Work Instead of Giving It

It’s not uncommon for founders and early employees to think about their companies in deeply personal ways. Some of my friends talk about their work the way other friends discuss their children.

In some ways, this can be positive. A deep level of care for your business increases the effort you put in and the thoughtfulness of your choices. On the other hand, it can become unhealthy. For example, if you’ve put all of your resources and energies into your business, then if it comes crashing down, you’ll crash, too.

Furthermore, it can be difficult to give up control of daily activities when you care so much. At times, I have found it excruciatingly hard to seek help — to hand over the reins at work to anyone else. Yet doing so has overwhelmingly produced more good than bad.

People don’t want to be offered help

A 2018 Michigan State study found that employees often don’t appreciate offers of help from coworkers, and that it’s better to wait until you are asked for help before jumping in. The study explains that for many of us, it can be frustrating to offer help and not receive any gratitude in response, which discourages people from offering in the first place.

In the context of running a business, this is a revealing insight with two big takeaways. First, it means that you should ask for help from your employees instead of expecting them to offer it themselves. Second, you should treat your employees the same way, not stepping on their toes to offer assistance unless they ask.

It’s important to take these lessons to heart, because it actually affects the health and longevity of your company.

You can’t (and shouldn’t) do it all yourself

That’s because no matter how much you might feel the pressure of each decision, it’s physically impossible to do it all on your own. As your company grows, you’ll most likely be forced to delegate in order to maximize your time.

Furthermore, you can’t be an expert on all topics. Letting employees that are skilled in specific functions take on those related tasks will result in higher quality output.

Your employees will gain ownership and competency in the long run

You might believe you know best and should therefore run a project solo. Even if you’re right, you should still ask for help, because doing so helps your employees grow.

I’ve seen employees become discouraged and frustrated when I’ve done work without including them. For example, when I was redesigning my website’s homepage, I knew exactly what I wanted and made the changes myself. When I presented the new page to the team and asked them to finish the implementation, they were taken aback. They felt as much ownership over the site’s layout as I did and didn’t appreciate being denied a chance to provide input. After numerous complaints, I had to get everyone on a Zoom call, explain my decision and apologize. Lesson learned.

Asking for others’ help will let them share in ownership of the result, even if it’s only for a small piece of the whole. It will also give them additional insight into your thinking and choices. Over time, they’ll be able to take on more responsibility where they can complete the work to your liking.

It’s more enjoyable to delegate

Few of us enjoy every type of work. Redesigning a website requires a dramatically different skill set than talking to customers. Regardless of what you might be good at, delegating the work that you don’t want to do frees you up to do more of what you love.

Your time is valuable. Spending it on the activities that energize and sustain you will do wonders for your company. Finding ways to hand off certain tasks and ask for help from others will leave you happier and more productive.

Be careful about stepping on others’ toes

Of course, it’s important to maintain a high quality of output in your company. That said, you can’t micromanage. In the study mentioned above, Michigan State management professor Russel Johnson found that employees “begin to question their own competency and feel a threat to their workplace autonomy” when you ask them if they need help. Imagine how much more insulted your employees might feel if you forcefully tell them what to do.

That’s why it’s better to take a nuanced approach. People have to learn and fail for themselves, and being a good leader is about helping them learn how to handle failure. In the short run it might lead to some hiccups, but over time it will empower your employees.

By asking for help and being deliberate about the ways in which you give it, you will be able to focus on the most meaningful activities and build an effective, motivated team.

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