You Can Ask For Help At Work and Not Be Weak
Is it hard for you to ask for help at work? Every one of us will encounter a problem at work that leaves us needing help from others, but our desire to be independent and seen as competent often outweighs the logical but often uncomfortable step of simply asking someone on our team for help. Accountant and author Courtney Watson talks through how she learned to leave behind the idea that independence equals strength, and shares four questions everyone should ask themselves when something has us stumped.
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When you think about asking for help, which memory comes to mind first?
Let me first say that I was once the young woman who held onto her “independence” with a white-knuckle grip because I believed my freedom was rooted in it. I believed my ability to do everything asked of me without needing help was a badge of honor and evidence of a life well put together. There are still moments where this pride swells within me and I buy into the ‘you can do it all on your own’ lifestyle, but now I recognize the truth of the matter: this constant striving to maintain independence and trying to do everything on your own and telling people that everything is fine…is really just exhausting.
Three years ago this month, I began a post-surgery recovery that involved me needing help to do literally everything. For more than two months, I moved back into my parent’s house and resigned myself to needing help with everything from laying down at night to putting socks on when my feet were cold. In this period of time, every shred of my independence was lost. It was a humbling thing for a young woman who had just begun a life on her own, because as my body was healing, my heart was being broken of its deeply rooted false belief that prevented asking for help. With every morning I needed assistance getting out of bed, every day I couldn’t drive myself to wherever I wanted to go, and every night my parents couldn’t sleep through the night because of something I needed, I felt more and more broken. And yet it was in the broken places that my heart began to feel lighter as the shattered space gave way to healing and Truth. It was here I began to learn the truth of God’s kindness towards us.
When it comes to needing or asking for help, God’s kindness can come in the form of our family living out the example of how to serve those who need a helping hand. His kindness can come in the form of the Church standing strong around us as we find ourselves shaking in our circumstances. His kindness is evidenced in humankind. When we find ourselves in need of help, we are entering into a sacred space where God’s kindness is revealed to us anew. This space where our dependence is highlighted is also where we find the freedom that comes in relying on the Lord and the people He intentionally places in our lives. It is no longer all up to us.
Do you think women in the workforce feel as though they’re able to ask for help at work? Is there a stigma in the workplace around needing help and asking for it?
I think it’s important to define what kind of help we’re talking about. If we are asking for task-based help that directly relates to our job, I believe it’s generally acceptable. Asking for help with a specific task shows evidence of our desire to do our job well and of our curiosity that leads to innovation highly valued in a healthy workplace. I think the issue here relates to what questions we should ask ourselves and what questions we should voice to another team member. Sometimes we are tempted to ask someone else for help because we just don’t have the energy to figure it ourselves, or we’re just being lazy that day. Let’s be honest – we have all been there. Those situations aside, when we truly cannot answer the question ourselves, I think it’s helpful to ask the following questions:
- Is it Google-able?
- Is it a question for a peer or a supervisor?
- Is it something I can ask with a possible solution already crafted?
- Is it related to a decision outside of my realm of responsibility?
By running through these questions, I am then able to confidently ask the questions knowing I truly need the help.
When it comes to our workload as a whole, I believe there is a stigma telling us that asking for help in bearing the load is a sign of weakness. For those who have believed this, let me say very clearly that the false belief that asking for help is weakness is keeping us from the freedom God desires to give. When we step into the places we are called, we have the strength of the Holy Spirit flowing within us. We are worthy of the work because God has gifted it to us. But that does not mean we have to bear it alone.
Y’all, we carry the weight of our work in the office, the home, and the church, and it is heavy. When the projects spill over into the weekend and we feel like we’re drowning in to-dos, asking for help is not a sign of weakness but is a testament to the powerful ability of being self-aware. We break free of the weight that tells us we have to do it all, we recognize our limits, and we reach out for someone to pull us from the water. There may be a stigma of ‘this is just another woman who can’t keep up,’ but we are women of God and workers for God and in Him there is no shame.
How have you learned to be honest about when you need help, both at work and in your personal life?
If you were to ask my boss, I’m confident he would agree when I say I am the queen of questions. If I can ask a question at the beginning and minimize the chances of having to fix something at the end because I didn’t ask for clarity, then ultimately I’m saving both my team and myself time. However, being the queen of questions means you learn the importance of when to ask the question. This is something I honestly learned through trial and error. If I interrupt my boss every time I have a question, neither of us would get much work done. If I wait until I need an answer ASAP to get the project or task done, I’m creating unnecessary stress. So, learning to batch questions has been incredibly time-saving. I personally do this by keeping a small note tab on my computer so that as I go through my work and questions come up, I can jot them down and keep going (unless it’s critical). I do this for a number of reasons, but mainly because it helps myself clear the clutter in my mind to focus on the task at hand and it respects the time of the person I need to ask for help.
In my personal life, the learning has been much slower. I’ve always viewed asking questions in the workplace as bringing clarity and demonstrating a curiosity rooted in learning how I can do my job better. Asking for help in my personal life has always seemed like proof of me being incapable of handling what’s been entrusted to me. I mistakenly believed that when God called me to something, it meant that I had to do it on my own or else I was proving His trust in me was misplaced. As I explained above, the breakthrough for me came through the recognition that there is freedom in dependence. I realized that needing help doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you’re a human being designed to live in relationship with God and other human beings.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.” This is the beauty of living in community. When we drop the facade of having it all together on our own and let people into our struggles, we see life happen as God intended it. Together, we can help each other succeed. When one falls, the other reaches out and helps them regain their footing. Wherever we go, we do not go alone.
Anything else you’d like to share?
The ultimate lesson I have learned about asking for help in any capacity is this: independence does not equal strength. Where the enemy tells us we are incompetent if we need help at work, we are weak if we need help with the weight of life right now, or we are unqualified if we need help navigating a new season, our Almighty God tells a different story. He tells a story of community, of rising together, of a unified body of believers described this way in Romans 12:4-5: “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.”
We are not incompetent when we need to ask for help at work. We are cultivating a culture where we are unafraid of partnering with people to move toward a common goal. We are not weak for needing help bearing the weight of what our lives look like right now. We are filled with the Spirit of God who is our strength and who guides us back to the Body where we find His strength in numbers. We are not unqualified to take a new step because we need help along the way. We are inviting people into our journey and asking them to walk with us as we witness the way the Lord has already laid out the steps before us.
Courtney Grace Watson is an author, an accountant, and an avid coffee consumer. Her book, Growing Up: Navigating Life Between the Office and the Altar, is a call to live a life rooted in Christ in order to face struggles and success with God on our side. She is also the creator of the Faithful Fireworks blog where her desire is to encourage, equip, and empower women to build their lives in Christ and the Made for Monday emails where her hope is to deliver a reminder of Christ and our status as image-bearers as we begin another work week.
When she’s not crunching numbers or writing words, she spends her time watching hockey, eating ice cream, or dreaming of a white Christmas. You can find out more about Courtney and subscribe to her Made for Monday emails on her website at www.courtneygracewrites.com and on Instagram and Facebook at @courtneygracewrites.