Asking for help is not tantamount to failure. If you’re overloaded at work, suffering through it is not going to benefit anyone – not you, your manager or your teammates. In fact, problems can become worse with fewer options left to resolve them the longer we delay asking for help.

What do you need help with?

Before you approach anyone for help, it’s important to work out why you need help and what help would look like. Are you overworked because it’s a particularly busy time of year? If so, you’ll need to plan ahead and understand that it’s likely that everyone else is feeling stressed and overworked too. Or maybe it’s because you’ve been asked to do more work than you can fit into the hours in the day or are covering some of a colleague’s workload? Is a project eating into the time you allocated to your day-to-day tasks? Taking some time to determine how long you need help for, and what tasks you can outsource to others, will be a good starting point to your discussion. 

Could you hurt your career by asking for help?

Asking for help shows strength rather than weakness. If you approach it properly, it not only shows that you are striving for the highest quality but also have the company's best interests at heart. Unless it’s clear that everyone in your team is overloaded, start by approaching your colleagues for help. If you are genuinely in need of help, most people will feel flattered that you’ve approached them for advice or assistance. However, be careful not to appear to be offloading tasks onto your colleagues and make sure that you reciprocate the next time someone approaches you for help.

You risk a negative outcome if you go to your boss complaining that you can’t handle your job. When you ask your manager for help, don’t just go knocking on their door to whine about how much you have to do. Approach the situation in a way that shows you want to be able to do your job effectively and provide suggestions or recommendations on how the work can be offloaded.

How to ask your boss for help

  1. Act swiftly – the longer you delay asking for help the worse the issue can become.
  2. Create a list of the tasks you are currently working on in order of importance. 
  3. Work out how long each task will take you to do.

Think of possible solutions to problem before approaching your manager– i.e. how can the work be redistributed or prioritised? How can your manager help you to solve this problem?

This shows that you’ve made an effort to think through the issue on your own and that you’re not expecting your boss to sort it out for you—you’re trying to get the job done together. Remember, your boss might be feeling overworked and stressed too, so it’s a good idea to demonstrate that you still want to be responsible and accountable for the work you need help with.

In the end, getting help shouldn’t be a big challenge for an employee. An effective manager will see your request for help as an attempt to solve a problem for the benefit of the team and the company as a whole.