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9 Reasons Your Employee Won't Accept Help

Your employee just told you their partner just died. Or the reason they were not at work for the last three weeks was because of crippling depression.

You feel sad for them and want to help. You have a dialed-in HR team, and together, you have come up with some good ways to support them, but when you offer, your employee declines. You gently remind your employee of the available support, but they continue to turn you down.

Most managers assume an employee is turning them down because the employee doesn't need the help.

But that is often far from the truth.

Your support offers are turned down for some common but often overlooked reasons. Here are the eight most common reasons your employee turns down support.

#1 They Are Feeling Vulnerable

"I love feeling vulnerable!" said no one, ever.

I just recently had knee replacement surgery. In the first few days, I was taking two ten-minute walks a day, and I was using a walker. My son would accompany me on my walk every day, and he would need to put on and tie my shoes for me. I hated being unable to do something I had been doing since I was 5.

Feeling vulnerable is not welcome for most people, including your employee. It requires courage and trust. When your employee admits they need help and accepts the help, they fear they will be perceived as weak. Many employees will NOT share a cancer diagnosis with their manager because they are afraid of being seen as weak and unable to do the work.

It's uncomfortable to admit vulnerability.

#2 The Law of Reciprocity

The law of reciprocity is a social contract most of us live by. It is when a person feels obliged to give back to someone who gave to them, usually something of equal or more excellent value. Think about when someone texts you. You feel obligated to text them back unless you're a ghoster! The law of reciprocity is why we write thank-you notes or feel guilty when we don't!

It's a strong social norm.

When supporting an employee dealing with loss or depression, the law of reciprocity is tricky. When trying to support your employee, they may feel they have to pay you back, which may result in your employee feeling unwanted pressure to, say, show up to work when they should be home resting, even though that is not your intention.

Your employee may be turning you down because they feel incapable of paying you back and managing their current situation.

#3 They Don't "See" All The Help They Need

Back to my knee surgery! Before I had surgery, I knew I would need help for at least the first few days. But after that, I assumed I'd be able to get around ok and do things like heat up pre-made meals.

Boy, was I wrong! Thank goodness I have intelligent, proactive children. My son, a nurse, arranged to take FMLA and was my primary caregiver. I drastically underestimated how much help I needed.

Your employee may be turning down support simply because they need to know how much support they need!

#4 They Don't Want The Help

Y'all… we're Americans! We feel strongly about being independent and self-sufficient. We think everyone should be able to take care of themselves. And if they can't, it's their fault.

Pride plays out in a way that accepting an offer of help means you see them as incapable of managing the situation on your own. Some employees see accepting help as "being a charity case."

For your employee, needing help may mean swallowing their pride. That is not easy.

Ironically, these are often the same employees who are first in line to help others!

#5 Bad Past Experience

We all come with history. A friend of mine had cancer twice. The first time some important people who said they would come through didn't. The lesson she took from that experience was don't let people help you! Their loss or depression might not be their first rodeo in getting support. As a speaker, I hear many stories of how well-meaning friends and bosses have tried to help but have only made things worse but not following through.

#6 You're Using The Wrong Tone

You may think you are being helpful, but have you checked your tone? Nothing is worse than an offer to help that is delivered with a pity, let-me-save-you, belittling, or harsh tone. How can you tell if your tone is off? Check-in with what you think about the situation. Do you know the right answer to what they need? Are you exasperated that they aren't doing work at expected levels? Are you "over" their situation?

If you don't take the time to look at, recognize and accept your own feelings about their situation, they will 100% leak out of you when you try to offer support.

#7 They Don't See How Refusing Help Hurts Others

Back to my knee again! (It's just such a good recent example!) My almost refusing help stressed my boys, mother, and a few coworkers! But it greatly impacted my daughter, who lives with me.

She kept thinking about how worried she would be about me while she was at work. She knew about the threat of blood clots, the importance of getting up and moving, and how challenging that would be for me to manage alone. She was worried about her hyper-vigilance and how it would make her a less-than-good employee. She knew the likely hood of my getting hurt was high as I insisted on doing things alone.

I didn't think about any of this when planning for the surgery.

I didn't consider how worried she would be about me at work and how disruptive that would be to her. Thank goodness she spoke up.

Because loss or depression are blinder emotions, meaning they narrow one's focus to mostly themselves, your employee doesn't see the ramifications of refusing support at work and how that stresses you or your team out.

#8 They Don't Feel Good Enough

Self-love and accepting help? How are they intertwined?

Very closely. If you ask anyone if they like themselves, they usually say yes. (It's a vulnerable question!) But if you have an employee who worries about completing a project perfectly, needs a lot of reassurance, or consistently provides excellent work but stays up till 2 am to do it, these are symptoms of a person who doesn't feel "good enough."

If your employee feels like they need to be better, they will have a hard time accepting help because accepting support means that people love them and want to help them. That is hard to do when you yourself don't feel worthy. I would love to dive into the psychology of it, but let's just say this, if you feel you are undeserving, then you shape your life to reinforce that belief.

#9 You Aren't Offering What They Need

The truth will set you free. Look, the idea that you are supposed to "know" how your employee needs support is, honestly, a bit ridiculous. You are not a mind reader. Your job as the manager of a grieving or depressed employee is to ask questions (with no preconceived notions) to understand better how you can best work with them.

So sit down and talk. Ask if they need help with projects that are coming due, getting rides to work, or paying for treatment. Ask, ask, ask! And when you do, make it clear that you are asking from the point of view of wanting to support them, not punishing them for their current inability to get their work done!

These are just nine of the most common reasons an employee won't accept help; there are a plethora more! (I love that word!) And some of them have to do with your management style!

Why even bother with this?

An employee will work through their grief, you can't make your employee un-depressed, and you can't cure their cancer!

Because what you do and how you do it can have a profound effect on your employee, your team, and yourself! In a world where we want to and are asked to show up at our best selves, you owe it to yourself to make an effort to do better. It will improve what you see in the mirror every morning!

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