6 ways to encourage employees to ask for your help

“Why didn’t he just come to me for assistance?”

Many a manager has pondered this question after an employee makes a mistake or struggles with a situation. Most leaders would prefer a direct report stop by for clarification or advice rather than allow a problem to get worse. For some workers, though, asking for help is easier said than done.

Why? They worry what you will think. Will you see them as incompetent or unable to handle the responsibilities of their position on their own? Might you judge them as needy or bothersome? The danger of their silence is a bad outcome. Difficulties that might have been minimized if addressed early on or different routes that could have been tried never get considered.

What can managers do to reinforce to employees that they are there to help? Try these six things

Set the right tone

Consistently stress that you want people to seek you out when they have a question or could use some help. Hearing this often solidifies the message. Stress a “we’re all in this together” atmosphere, where asking for input and assistance from others is simply how things are done around here.

Difficult People D

Reinforce that colleagues often are good resources and can nudge someone to take the matter higher if beyond their scope. Model the behavior you want to see by regularly soliciting opinions and help from staff.

Avoid micromanaging

As part of your commitment to establishing a good work environment, refrain from always looking over everyone’s shoulder. Managers who do this make people feel nervous and untrustworthy. Employees will be afraid to come to you out of fear that doing so will lead you to scrutinize even more. Tout yourself as a support system available as they see fit.


Give an employee who comes to you your full attention. Put away your phone, and don’t act like you are being bothered. Engage in a conversation rather than jumping in like a parent correcting a child. Ask appropriate questions, and get the person’s perspective. What has she already tried? With what exactly is she struggling? Admit if you yourself do not know the answer at the moment and need more time to think or research.

Remain calm

Do not scare people! Yelling or making the employee feel bad or stupid about a situation likely guarantees she won’t approach you again (and others who hear about or witness your reaction won’t either). Treat mistakes as learning experiences.

Thank the worker for her trust

Independent types especially may struggle with coming to you for help. Express to a worker who stops by for advice that you are glad the two of you possess a transparent, collaborative relationship. Commend her on initiative and commitment to positive results.

Schedule regular 1:1 meetings

Employees sometimes hesitate to stop by out of fear that they are bothering you. When the two of you routinely engage in private talks, however, this space offers a natural occasion where the worker can ask for help without worrying that he is interrupting your work. Such meetings also get you comfortable with one another. This development may lead to greater ease when they need to come to you for assistance.

A final possibility for eliminating feelings of “I don’t want to intrude” is consistently conducting office hours where you encourage workers to drop by. Promote it as a time when you can devote full attention to anything on someone’s mind.

The flipside: When an employee constantly seeks your help

“Why can’t this employee leave me alone?”

While some managers need to think about how to encourage direct reports to come to them for help, others deal with the opposite problem. “Needy” workers can take up a large amount of a leader’s time and test one’s patience with their unquenchable desire for input and reassurance.

Managers may hesitate to say something because they do not want to appear uncaring, nor do they wish to run the risk of overlooking an important matter being brought to their attention. However, several strategies exist that may temper the undesirable behavior:

Set clear expectations

The worker in question may feel genuinely confused about priorities or responsibilities. Dedicate time to clarifying job duties and expected outcomes. The more tools you can provide from the start – to-do lists, project breakdowns, important deadlines, etc. – the more confidence you will breed in the employee.

Provide additional training

Do the person’s questions center mainly around a certain aspect of the job? If so, perhaps the worker does not feel sufficiently knowledgeable to tackle these tasks alone. Offer learning opportunities that boost the required skill set.

Watch your reaction to mistakes

Managers who blame, belittle, or berate employees when they make mistakes create an atmosphere of fear. Rather than experience embarrassment or your wrath, workers may exercise extreme caution by seeking your approval for every little act. When you take a more relaxed approach, they likely will too.

Encourage initiative

For some workers, coming to you to solve problems or make decisions seems much easier than acting on their own. Refrain from being a “fixer.” Ask the individual what actions she has already tried or considered. If few or none, suggest she brainstorm possibilities and come back at another time to bounce ideas off you.

Schedule 1:1 meetings

Commit to a regular time where you can give the person undivided attention, offer feedback, and answer questions. Knowing such sessions exist may limit interruptions at other times. Likewise, these conversations can boost the individual’s sense of worth and connection to the company, making approval-seeking less necessary.

Be proactively positive

Whether presenting a change in procedures or asking someone to take on a new task, display confidence in the person’s ability to adapt. Your level of faith can boost their self-perception and need for hand-holding. Try something like, “I’m here to support you when critical questions arise, but I know from your past successes that you possess the talent to take on new challenges.”

Show appreciation

Lastly, the possibility exists that your needy employees long for more recognition. Regularly hearing you utter unprompted words of thanks and praise may quench their desire to feel noticed – and keep them from knocking on your door so often.