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How to ask for more support as you return to the office

As our working lives change again, you may need to rely more on others—including friends, neighbors, and mentors—for help.

How to ask for more support as you return to the office
[Photo: olia danilevich/Pexels]

You probably don’t need a pile of research to know that having a strong support network is beneficial in a number of ways. Nevertheless, that pile exists. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that not having family and friends who can help out during times of trouble is linked with social isolation, loneliness, and even physical and mental conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease. A strong professional network can contribute to career success. And a strong social support network can help us be more resilient when dealing with stress.

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It’s probably time to give our networks a little bit of thought and maintenance. During the pandemic, Yale University researchers found that our social networks shrunk by an average of 16%. As more companies are making plans to open up offices and welcome employees back—at least part-time—many daily routines, stressors, and other aspects of our lives are going to change significantly. Again.

We all need a little help from time to time. Whether it’s the person who can give us just the right pep talk, or someone who can walk the dog or pick up the kids when we work late, it’s a good idea to think about where you’re going to need support as the world opens up again—and how to connect with people who can help when you need it.

Think about your team

The people in your support network may serve different purposes in your life. They typically fall into a few categories, says integrative behavioral health psychiatrist Ronda Mattox, MD. You may have people who act as cheerleaders or coaches. You may have mentors who can give you advice or guidance. And you may have “supporting cast” people who help you meet your and your family’s needs.

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As you think about the people in your life, think about how they make you feel. Are they reliable and trustworthy? “When you leave their presence, do you feel inspired, encouraged, uplifted? Do you feel understood? Do you feel heard?” she asks. Those are the types of relationships on which it’s important to focus and cultivate.

Look for the gaps

It’s not uncommon to have more support in one area than another, says communication expert Rachel DeAlto, author of Relatable: How to Connect with Anyone Anywhere (Even If It Scares You). So, look for the gaps you may have, especially as you think about what you’ll need if your work schedule is changing. DeAlto calls them “foot on chest” moments, where you suddenly have a crisis, something you need to talk about, or need help in other ways. Who will you call?

It’s also important to think about where the gaps will be in the future. Will you need someone to tend to your pets or be able to run an errand for you while you’re at the office? What people and resources are available to help you manage what you have been weaving into your day for the past two years? If you can’t think of someone, “that’s where you realize, ‘Okay, there is a lack there. There is a vacancy that needs to be filled,” she says.

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Look to your communities

Building your support network requires two things: finding people in your communities and investing in those relationships, Mattox says. You may have different communities: friends, professional contacts, family members, neighbors, a faith community, fellow parents, etc. Each may hold opportunities for you to find support and also support others when the need arises—sometimes when you don’t even know you need it. And communities based on common interests or circumstances may be better suited to offer help when you need it.

Stay flexible

One of the tricky parts of asking for help from your support network is exactly that: asking for help, says leadership expert Julie Bee, founder of Lead from Anywhere. Let’s face it: You can hire someone to help you with many things in your life. In those types of transactional relationships, you can be more demanding in what you expect from the service.

However, if you’re asking someone for their help as a favor because they have a relationship with you and care about your well-being, you need to be fair and somewhat flexible about the help that is delivered, Bee says. Consider whether it’s better to suffer because the assistance you’re getting is different than what you would do or to accept the help that is offered. “I’ve seen a lot of people who need help with some pain, but then they don’t accept the help that is being offered, because it isn’t quite exactly what they want it to be,” she says.

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Ask for help—the right way

When asking for help, be as specific as possible about what you need, Bee says. Prioritize the help you need and be fair about your requests. If you keep going back to the same person over and over again without offering support in return, the relationship may become unbalanced. And don’t just think about the people who can help you with your immediate need. Sometimes, asking a mentor or coach for advice about how to manage a challenging situation and solve it can lead to more ideas and resources than constantly asking a friend or family member to listen to your problem or help you solve a crisis, she says.

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, DeAlto says. Remember that what you need is not always obvious to those around you. “Sometimes people around us don’t give support because they don’t really understand what we need. Or they’re afraid to step up, or they don’t want to overstep,” she says. Keeping the people around you clued in to what you need—and staying attuned to their needs, too—can help strengthen your relationships and make it more likely that you’ll get the support you need when you need it.

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About the author

Gwen Moran is a writer, editor, and creator of Bloom Anywhere, a website for people who want to move up or move on. She writes about business, leadership, money, and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites

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