New research from HEC Paris suggests that employees may avoid asking for help at work as they doubt that it will actually be effective.
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 employees 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?
Researchers also found that help-seekers often underestimate the lengths to which others will go when they agree to help out.
“We feel a sense of responsibility, an obligation to follow through,” said 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.”
Newark reasons that organisations could function much more effectively 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.
The research was part of an initial pilot study of 99 participants, after which Newark and his colleagues carried our four different studies to reach their conclusions – the subsequent paper was published in the journal Organisational Behaviour and Human Processes.