Too Competent to Seek Help?: Organizational Values That Could Jeopardize Employee Progress

In this post I am going to make a case for why it is important to encourage ‘help-seeking’ when individuals (employee or executive) encounter challenges (during training or on the job) that they may find difficult to solve.  At first glance, you may think: “of course they should seek help when they face a challenge or problem.”

The fact of the matter is that many employees or executives do not seek help when they need it the most. Toxic ideas such as  “asking for help will alter others’ perception of me” or “asking for help will make me feel less competent than my colleagues” prevent them from seeking help from informal (e.g., friends) or formal (e.g., colleagues, project manager, etc) sources.  Since competence and Independence are among the most cherished values in today’s organizations (DePaulo & Fisher, 1980), many believe that help seeking may undermine these values (Lee, 1997).


In recent years, research has shown that help seeking behaviour is significantly associated with motivational attributes of Intrinsic goal orientation and self-efficacy (Ryan, Gheen, Midgley, 1998).  Ryan and his colleagues concluded that higher levels of help seeking is significantly associated with higher levels of self-efficacy and intrinsic goal orientation.  Findings revealed that individuals with lower levels of self-efficacy and intrinsic goal orientation were less likely to seek help when they need it the most (for more information on intrinsic goal orientation and self-efficacy please see my previous posts).

This study validates the previous findings and confirms that 1: help seeking is an essential component of successful performance in individuals; and 2. Highly resourceful and more successful individuals are more likely to seek help when they face a difficult problem (Karabenick & Knapp, 1991; Pintrich, 1991, 1999, 2004).

Perhaps it is time for organizations to emphasize the importance of help seeking and destigmatize incompetency and dependency from help seeking behavior.


DePaulo, B., & Fisher, J.  (1980).  The cost of asking for help.  Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 7, 23-35.

Karabenick, S. A., & Knapp, J. R. (1991). Relationship of academic help-seeking to the use of learning strategies and other instrumental achievement behavior in college students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83, 221–230.

Lee, F.  (1997).  When the going gets tough, do the tough ask for help? Help seeking and power motivation in organizations.  Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 72, 336-363.

Ryan, A., Gheen, M., & Midgley, C. (1998). Why do some students avoid asking for help? An examination of the interplay among students’ academic efficacy, teachers’ social-emotional role, and classroom goal structure.  Journal of Educational Psychology, 90, 528–535.

Pintrich, P. R. (1999). The role of motivation in promoting and sustaining self-regulated learning. International Journal of Educational Research, 31, 459-470.

Pintrich, P. R. (2004). A conceptual framework for assessing motivation and self-regulated learning in college students. Educational Psychology Review, 16, 385-407.

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