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Stanford expert: Ask this one key question to reduce stress and avoid workplace regret

Zameena Mejia

If you're skipping vacation time , lack a sense of purpose at work or can't find work-life balance, the solution might be as easy as asking this one-word question: "Help?"

LinkedIn recently surveyed 1,000 working adults on their workplace challenges. Managing workloads and finding workplace balance topped the list of daily struggles, with more than a third reporting those hurdles. But surprisingly, nearly the same share of people reported being afraid to ask for help.

In fact, 60 percent of those surveyed regretted not asking for help when they needed it.

Not asking for help is common in the workplace, says Stanford Graduate School of Business lecturer Leah Weiss. People can struggle to cope with any number of stresses, from issues at home to overwhelming work demands. "We're simply not communicating these problems," Weiss tells CNBC Make It .


Some workers, according to the survey, feared wasting people's time. More than 40 percent of Gen Z workers held this hesitation, compared to just 28 percent of the survey takers as a whole.

Other workers felt they needed to prove their worth by solving a problem alone. In this case, Gen Z workers were nearly twice as likely to have this fear. "Many people are afraid that if they let on that they can't keep up with a set of demands," says Weiss, "it's going to undermine their credibility."


Weiss warns that by holding everything in, people will "drive themselves into the ground."

"If you don't ask for help and you're in an untenable situation, you're going to ultimately find yourself underperforming or finding yourself in a health issue," she says and points to the many side-effects of being too stressed , such as high blood pressure, anxiety and even chronic infections.

Those who ask for help should realize that most people are happy to lend a hand. In fact, some studies say we greatly underestimate how willing people are to respond to a direct request.

And those worried about how they'll be perceived can stop fretting. Research finds that people who ask for help don't just look smarter, they make their advice giver feel smart as well.



Since asking for help can be uncomfortable, Weiss suggests workers keep communication flowing throughout a project. This approach can help you better manage your priorities from the start and get ahead of work tasks before they weigh you down.

When an assignment arises, she suggests you ask: "What do we need to do as soon as possible?" or "Which of these projects can be done tomorrow or later this week?" These questions can help you understand goals and priorities. If your manager says every project is a priority, that's a time ask for support.

"It's way better the earlier you have that conversation," Weiss says. "You don't want to be late on a crucial project because you were afraid to have that conversation or under-deliver."

Weiss notes that support doesn't always need to come from your boss. Build a network of colleagues you can bounce ideas off of and help you navigate challenging days. People who have at least one friend at work miss work less often, stay at their jobs longer and are more engaged, she notes.

"That work friend that you're investing in and supporting is going to be the person who's going to be there for you on your worst day as well, and they're going to be key to your productivity," she says.

Most importantly, says Weiss, don't feel you need to follow some outdated notion of communicating at work. There's no reason to try to pretend you've got it together when you actually don't. "You're way better off as a leader or the person who's trying to become a leader by surfacing issues sooner, asking for support and being a person who can manage up."

"You should be courageous," says Weiss.

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