When & How to Ask for Help at Work (with Email Example)

As a new adult navigating the adulting struggle, I can assure you that knowing how to ask for help when you need it is a skill. Not only is it a skill, but it’s one you’ll use frequently as an adult—even at work.

While the first time I asked for help at work was scary, I’m so glad I did it. My only regret was not doing it sooner. On the other side of things, I can assure you that knowing how to ask for help when you need it doesn’t have to be a hard lesson learned. Here are tips, examples, and encouragement to help you in asking for help at work.

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The Importance of Asking for Help at Work

Why is asking for help when you need it so difficult? Because the corporate work culture values productivity, achievement, and individualism.

  • Whether by enacting new programs or reorganizing the business every year, corporations are trying to foster higher productivity. This pushes us to overwork to meet company productivity goals.
  • Achievement also hinders us from asking for help. Our push to always “do the next thing” prevents us from taking a healthy workload and asking for help.
  • Particularly in American culture, we value individual work over collective work. While this helps us be accountable for our work, it can also be isolating. At those times, asking for help at work doesn’t even feel like an option. 

When it comes to the importance of asking for help at work, individualism might be one of the biggest hinderances.

Why is it important to ask for help at work?

Despite those aspects of work cultures, asking for help at work is important for our wellbeing, our stress levels, and our future work.

  • It’s important to ask for help at work so you don’t end up overworked, stretched too thin, and burnt out.. A burnt-out employee can’t perform well or do his / her job, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance is key to quality of life.
  • Second, asking for help at work saves time and prevents rework. We fear asking for assistance because we don’t want to feel incompetent at work. However, by asking for clearer instructions or suggestions on how to complete a task, we end up saving time in the long run. 
  • Lastly, the success of the company does not sit on your shoulders. This was the wake-up call from my trusted mentor that I needed. My company is not going under because I don’t get this one thing done during my weekend. We put the weight of the company on our shoulders, but some tasks can wait. 

“”If something can’t wait, then put it on your company to find you help. 

Kara J Lovett Co.

Is it OK to ask for help at work?

Does anyone bat an eye when a professional athlete goes to their coach to ask for advice? Doesn’t every hero have a trusted mentor or guide? Don’t teachers always praise the students who ask questions? Don’t job listings often require someone who is a team player?

The answer: Yes, because it is OK to ask for help. It far beats the alternative of being stressed, overworked, and burned out.

Related: 7 Secrets for Setting Work Boundaries & Getting Better Work Life Balance

Feeling incompetent at work

Even with understanding the importance of asking for help at work, we often associate asking for help with incompetence, which couldn’t be father from the truth!

One time I asked for help from a classmate, and he tried to make me feel ashamed for needing help. After I cooled off, I promptly went to his desk, and told him:

“Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength.”

Kara J Lovett Co.

I wasn’t angry that he didn’t help me. I was angry that he tried to make me feel incompetent at work just because I asked for help. Asking for help has nothing to do with ability. It’s about accepting our human limitations and getting clarity on expectations. 

In fact, I admire people who ask for help. It takes courage, humility, and a strong self-awareness to be able to say—“I need help with this.” People admire young professionals who ask thoughtful questions and seek help before it’s too late.

Related: Avoid the Guilt Trap: How to Say No at Work Professionally

Asking for Help at Work Examples

Here are some examples of tough work situations where you may need to ask for help at work:

  • You’re given a task or project with no direction
  • You’re given a project to complete in a short time period with no support
  • You’re constantly working overtime and on weekends to keep up with the pace of work
  • You’re confused about what your top job priorities should be
  • You’re not getting the support you need from your teammates or your boss

How to Ask for Help at Work

By this point, I hope I’ve convinced you to take the courageous step of asking for help at work when you need it. It is not our responsibility to carry the weight of the company or our teams on our shoulders. Nor should we be expected to give up our free time and wellbeing to meet unrealistic work demands. Simply put, that’s unsustainable.

But now that you’ve decided to ask for assistance, here are some tips to guide you through the process.

6 Tips for Asking for Help at Work 

  1. Clearly define the problems. When you ask for help at work, first state why you need help and any other factors that are preventing you from doing your job effectively. Having those identified and agreed upon at the beginning will help you to have a fruitful discussion with your team or manager.
  2. Develop possible solutions. This extra step shows that you’re not trying to get out of work or are being lazy. It also makes it more likely that one of your solutions will be chosen by your team and manager. With that said, make sure you know which solution you prefer most. 
  3. Avoid the blame game. During your explanation of the problem, be sure not to blame others implicitly or explicitly. Instead, focus on the situation and the problems the situation is causing for you. How is this affecting your wellbeing? How is it impeding you from doing other parts of your job? How has it caused you rework and added time to your workday? 
  4. Be Professional
  5. Be Polite
  6. Schedule a Conversation

How do you ask professionally for help?

4. Be Professional

When asking for help, the professionalism comes from your tone, body language, and word choice. In your tone, you want to speak confidently, clearly, and avoid whining. Take deep breaths before the conversation and practice what you want to say in the mirror.

Concerning body language, maintain eye contact and watch your facial expressions. You don’t want your face to say something before your mouth does.

Lastly, be careful with your word choice. Use “we” and “let’s” to convey that you want to work with your manager to come up with an appropriate solution. Don’t exaggerate – choose the words that you really mean – and avoid ultimate words such as “always” and “never” – which usually make statements untrue. 

How do you politely ask for help at work?

5. Be Polite

When it comes to how to ask for help at work, it’s also important to be polite and take the emotion out of the request. If you’re frustrated, angry, or tired, don’t have a conversation about asking for more support. Instead, write down what you’re feeling or vent about it to a friend to get it out of your system. When you do have the conversation, this will make sure you’re focusing on the problems at hand and not letting your emotions color your view of the situation or your words.

How do I tell my boss I need help at work?

There’s no easy way to get over the fear of feeling incompetent at work or losing your boss’s respect. But a good boss will support you in your work and your career goals. Put aside the shame that tells you you’re a failure for asking for help. Because what’s more likely is that you’ll fail because you didn’t ask for help when you needed it.

6. Schedule a conversation

Set aside dedicated time to speak with your boss about your situation and ask for help at work. After the conversation, follow it up with an email that recaps the main points you addressed in the conversation.

Related: How to Not Give Up – Dealing with Tough Work Situations

Tips and Examples for How to Politely Ask for Help in Email

You can apply these same tips for asking for help at work to how to politely ask for help in an email with a couple of changes. 

  • Remember that the written word cannot be erased or taken back, so proofread your email carefully. 
  • Read it out loud to see what tone is conveyed in the text.
  • Ask your mentor to review the email and give you feedback. 
  • Consider whether you should have a one-on-one conversation with your manager before or after sending the email. It’s easy for things to be misunderstood in emails.
  • Be specific in your ask and the details of the situation. For example, when conveying the urgency of the situation, mention the time period. Do you need help today, tomorrow, next week, or next month?
  • Be careful with your word choice, as mentioned in the how to ask for help at work tips above.
  • Don’t bury the lead. Be upfront about the fact that you’re asking for help and why.

Asking for Help at Work Email Example

If you’re not sure how to craft your email or how to ask for help at work, here’s an email example based on a recent situation of mine.

Dear <Manager>,

For the past two weeks, I’ve been working about 25% overtime in order to keep up with the pace of my work since my teammate left the project. Even though we have less people on the project, the work level remains the same. Working this much overtime is unsustainable for me. It’s negatively affected my well-being and my work-life balance, and I fear it will eventually impact the quality of my work.

I’d like to schedule a conversation next week to discuss some possible solutions for my project. Adding another team member to the project would rebalance the workloads. We could also extend the deadlines of my other tasks. If these options don’t work, let’s prioritize my work tasks so I know how you’d like me to allot my time across my different job responsibilities.

I look forward to discussing these options further. Thank you. 

Notice in this email that I did not blame anyone on the team or my boss and focused on the situation. I also stated the problem up front and was specific with the details and the timeline for a future conversation. Lastly, I suggested three solutions for me to get the help I needed, which will serve as a baseline for our future conversation.

One female colleague asking for help at work to another female colleague while they stand over a wooden desk

How to Ask for Help When You Need it

We live in a world that treats weakness as something to be ashamed of. Work-life balance seems to be disappearing more and more in corporate culture. But you don’t have to follow this work culture tide. You can be honest with yourself and your team about needing help and better work-life balance.

By not being afraid to stand out and ask for help, you’re encouraging all the people around you who don’t know how to ask for help at work, too. 

Asking God for Help at Work

In addition to your boss, you should also be asking God for help at work. Your Heavenly Father cares about you and the struggles that you are going through. He wants to equip you and strengthen you as you navigate the adulting struggle and the work-life balance struggle

No problem is too small for God, and he encourages us to bring our anxiety and fears to him. If you’re ever stuck and wondering how to ask for help at work, start by getting on your knees and praying. 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)

While asking God for help at work isn’t a magic wand to fix all of your problems, it will encourage you and help you overcome the fear of asking for help at work. Just as you rely on God in life, it’s okay to rely on your colleagues and your boss to get you the help and support you need.

How do you ask your boss for more support?

Leave me a comment below!

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