May I Help You?

The scene was from a must watch TV series for anyone interested in workplace effectiveness:
Undercover Boss. For those unfamiliar with the show, each episode features a CEO or other C Suite executive who works in disguise as a new employee. The objective is for the senior leader to experience the organization from a much different perspective.

The episode that stays with me features the CEO of a heavy equipment manufacturer who went to work on the assembly line in one of his organization’s lean, high tech manufacturing facilities. The trainer assigned to the CEO was a knowledgeable and skilled veteran working in the precision engine station. The associate was also patient, as the CEO found it difficult to keep up with the pace and standards of the job.

The CEO noticed that his co-worker kept photos of his grandchildren at his station. The associate explained that these children were the bright lights of his life. Sadly, both suffered from a rare medical condition that would shorten their lives. In the meantime, the children’s care took a heavy toll from the family’s emotional and financial resources. The associate explained that providing strength and stability to his family and being the “go to guy” at work was overwhelming. Then this rock of a man teared up. “Sometimes,” he said, ” I just want to wear a Help Me! button.”

How many of us can relate to his plea? How many of us carry burdens silently that overwhelm our energy and talent? How often could we perform much better with a little training, advice or support, yet are afraid to ask? Who among us doesn’t long for a “Help Me!” button once in a while?

Why is it so difficult to ask for the help we need? If you doubt this, think of how often someone has tripped, then loudly proclaim“I’m O.K.” before anyone asks? Or, have you watched someone with both arms and hands full deny an offer of assistance with a door? If we can’t allow ourselves the vulnerability of accepting help in these obvious and low risk situations, how can we open our fortress to accept help when we really need it?

I’d argue we have our view of accepting help upside down. Accepting help is a sign of strength. Necessary and appropriate help eases our burden, lightens our load, and allows us to contribute to our fullest potential. Denial of necessary and appropriate help is a sign of weakness. It sends false signs that we can handle more than we can or know more than we do; both puts us and our colleagues at risk.

What about you? Are you able to ask for help at work? What advice to you have for those who struggle with asking? Let’s help each other. In my next post, I’ll recap your advice with ideas from others.

In the meantime, does anyone know where I can get one of those “Help Me!” buttons?

6 thoughts on “May I Help You?

  1. Thanks for this, Susan. I think this approach is only way we can move toward work environments in which we can all be our authentic selves. I think vulnerability accelerates connection faster than anything else; when people are able to be vulnerable and ask for help at work, work becomes a very human place.

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