Vocations and Learning

, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 259–279 | Cite as

Asking for Help: A Relational Perspective on Help Seeking in the Workplace

  • Janine van der Rijt
  • Piet Van den Bossche
  • Margje W. J. van de Wiel
  • Sven De Maeyer
  • Wim H. Gijselaers
  • Mien S. R. Segers
Original Paper


In the context of the complexity of today’s organizations, help seeking behavior is considered as an important step to problem solving and learning in organizations. Yet, help seeking has received less attention in organizational literature. To increase the potential impact of help seeking on learning, it is essential to understand which mechanisms affect help seeking. The present study questioned whether the characteristics of the relationships that employees have in the workplace are related to help seeking behavior. This study draws on a social network perspective to investigate the employees’ relationships within their professional network. In particular, the role of accessibility, awareness of expertise, trust, and hierarchy in help seeking was explored. Results indicated that the perceptions of the help provider’s expertise, accessibility and trust were positively associated with the likelihood to seek help, frequency by which help is sought, and perceived quality of the help. Moreover, employees seem more likely to seek help upward from higher status individuals and less likely downward from lower status individuals. Employees perceived the help of higher status individuals as more useful and constructive. These results highlight the importance of investing in the strength of relationships, ensuring the accessibility of expertise and fostering a work environment, in which employees trust and respect each other. Furthermore, the results suggest valuable and promising avenues for future research and practice.


Help seeking Feedback seeking Interpersonal relationships Social networks Social interaction 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Janine van der Rijt
    • 1
    • 2
  • Piet Van den Bossche
    • 1
    • 3
  • Margje W. J. van de Wiel
    • 4
  • Sven De Maeyer
    • 3
  • Wim H. Gijselaers
    • 1
  • Mien S. R. Segers
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Educational Research and Development, School of Business and EconomicsMaastricht UniversityMaastrichtThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Erasmus MC Desiderius SchoolUniversity Medical Centre RotterdamRotterdamThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Institute for Education and Information SciencesUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium
  4. 4.Department of Work and Organizational Psychology, Faculty of PsychologyMaastricht UniversityMaastrichtThe Netherlands

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