What to Do When Your Coworkers Won’t Help You

You’ve noticed a disturbing trend at work lately. You ask your coworkers for help, but all they offer is the cold shoulder. What’s going on? Work should be a place of collaboration, where coworkers complement each other’s skills to promote inclusion and teamwork. To perform at your highest level, you’ll need the support of others, just like they’ll need yours. Are you going to have to beg?


What should you do when your coworkers won’t help you? That depends on whether the behavior is situational or chronic in your office.

A Sudden Lack Of Support

A sudden lack of support from otherwise cooperative coworkers deserves some introspection before acting. It’s possible your requests have arisen at inopportune times, and you’ll need to either wait or try your best to complete the project, answer the question, etc.

If you find it happening more often than in the past, think back on your recent habits. Are you quick to ask for help but not so quick to offer it? Do your requests impose too much on other’s time? Are you asking for assistance for the same problem over and over, without bothering to master the skills yourself? Are you grateful for the assistance you receive?

Nobody likes to imagine their behavior is toxic, but negative coworkers rarely see their behavior in a negative light. Consider the question about being grateful. You may think your gratitude is self-evident—that it doesn’t need to be spoken. Maybe you even feel uncomfortable expressing gratitude aloud. But your coworker doesn’t have extrasensory perception, and they’ve likely mistaken your silence for presumptuousness.

The best thing you can do in such situations is be open in your communication. If your coworkers are simply too busy to help, communication will ensure that you don’t take their refusal as a personal snub. On the other hand, if there’s some bad blood you’re unaware of, talking it out can be the first step toward re-initiating the office’s spirit of cooperation.

The Chronic Cold Shoulder

But what if the problem persists? What if all your introspection and efforts to communicate lead to cold shoulders getting colder? At this point, you’re dealing with a problem of company culture, and this can prove very difficult for a lone employee to remedy.

One study has suggested coworkers are less likely to help peers because they view them as more of a threat. If they help you, they bolster your esteem in the company’s eyes, while they lose time they could have used to advance themselves. The more competitive an office culture, the more of an issue this becomes.

If this sounds like your situation, consider asking those above you on the corporate ladder. They won’t see you as a threat to their position and will likely view your success as a way to prove their managerial acumen. It turns the situation into a win-win for both parties.

If this doesn’t work, consider talking with your boss about the work environment. Express that you feel the office milieu is too concerned with self-promotion through competition rather than collaboration. Bring facts to bear. Note that such conditions can lead to toxic work environments, and a lack of cooperation has been linked to a lack of productivity and work satisfaction.

Hopefully, with these tips, you can repair a situation where coworkers won’t help you and turn it into one of mutually beneficial cooperation. If not, you may have to do some serious soul-searching to determine whether this work environment is right for you.

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