Are America's Workers Not Getting Enough of this 4-Letter Word?

For some people -- probably more than care to admit it -- it's hard to admit you don't know everything. That leads to dangerous workplace behavior where people struggle to complete a job they might not quite know how to do.

Instead of charging blindly ahead, there are times when nearly all of us need to ask for help. In too many cases, needing to invoke that four letter word -- help -- is seen by the person who needs it most as a sign of weakness. That's an attitude that can hurt not only the employee, but also the company.

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Help, I need somebody

Over 8-in-10 (84%) of all professional "admit that they've needed help at some point in their career, yet more than 1-in-3 employees (35%) say they are often afraid to ask for help at work and 60% of employees say there are times they've regretted not asking for help," according to a new study by LinkedIn (which is owned by Microsoft).

While most people can benefit from a helping hand, 30% of survey respondents said they would rather work an extra six hours a week than ask for it. More than half (54%) of workers in Generation Z and 41% of Millennials admitted they were afraid to say "I need help" at work, but 43% of all respondents credited asking for help as helping their career grow.

"The world of work is constantly changing so it's helpful to be constantly learning," wrote Blair Decembrele on the official LinkedIn blog. "It's normal to not always know how to handle a difficult situation with a coworker or even a new project. In fact, over 80% of professionals shared that asking for help led them to solve a problem."

When do people ask for help?

While it's clear that workers don't ask for help as often as they should, there are scenarios when they do. The survey uncovered the top five situations when employees are likely to ask for help -- and you can see by the relatively low totals that no one reason dominates the list.

  • When beginning a new project at work (18%)
  • After making a mistake at work (17%)
  • When dealing with a challenging situation with a coworker (13%)
  • When dealing with stress at work (9%)
  • Looking for a new job (8%)

Not asking for help can actually hurt workers in two ways. People who don't ask for help create more work for themselves, and they waste an opportunity to flatter a co-worker. Instead of being annoyed at being asked for help, people actually like it, according to a 2014 report by Harvard Business School and Wharton School.

"Essentially, people are so flattered to be asked for advice that their heads swell a little and they think of themselves as smart; that reflects well on the advice-seeker who is in turn believed to be smart enough to recognize their game," wrote Time's Megan Gibson in an article on the study.

We get by with a little help...

While the old chestnut "there are no stupid questions" may not be entirely true, it's reasonable to ask for help when you need it. If your question truly is "stupid," and most of us have asked some doozies, it's better to have it answered quickly then spend a lot of time trying to figure it out by yourself.

Knowing when you need help isn't a sign of weakness. It actually shows that you're smart enough to put your ego aside and focus on getting the job done. Your boss and coworkers should appreciate that, and you may get the added benefit of the person you ask liking that you picked him or her.

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Teresa Kersten is an employee of LinkedIn and is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft. Daniel B. Kline owns shares of Microsoft. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.