When employees get stuck trying to complete a task, asking for help seems to be the surest way to solve the problem. But does asking for help lead to better job performance? According to researchers (Geller & Bamberger, 2012), the answer is that it depends on who you are and why you are asking for help in the first place.
DIFFERENT REASONS FOR SEEKING HELP
The researchers explain the difference between two reasons why a person may ask for help. The first is called dependent help-seeking logic. This is when a person is focused primarily on completing the task at hand as fast as possible, and is not necessarily concerned about developing long-term skills and abilities. Because people using this kind of logic pay little attention to the solution, they will likely ask for help the next time they are faced with a similar problem.
The other type is called autonomous help-seeking logic. This is when a person asks for help because of an inner desire to become competent at the task. When people use this logic, they are more likely to learn the solution to the problem, and will not need assistance next time they are confronted with the same problem.
THE RESEARCH STUDY
So which kind of help-seeking logic leads to better job performance? After conducting a study of call-center employees, the researchers found that people who are usually autonomous help-seekers and people who are rarely dependent help-seekers are associated with better job performance. Practically, this means that people who seek help in order to learn how to do the task themselves are more likely to do better at their jobs.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
What do we do with this information? From the perspective of people in helping positions, we might want to be on the lookout for help-seeking people who pay little attention to learning the solution for themselves. Helping these people does not seem to improve their performance in the long run. On the other hand, when we identify someone intent on mastering skills and gaining personal autonomy, helping them out might be a good idea. Investing time in these people may lead them to better job performance.
From the perspective of the help-seeking individual, we ought to ask ourselves what our motivation is when asking for help. If we are asking for help in order to learn and master the solution, we are on the right track. If we are asking for help as a mere shortcut, you might say we are not exactly helping ourselves.
Geller, D., & Bamberger, P.A., (2012). The impact of help seeking on individual task performance: The moderating effect of help seekers’ logics of action. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(2), 487-497.