The kindness of strangers: 50% will step up to help

September 20, 2018

All of us like to feel that we can “look out for number one”—that we are competent, self-sufficient, and strong.  We hesitate to ask for help in many situations, because in doing so we reveal a personal weakness—and also because we don’t know how a plea for assistance will be received.

What’s more, nobody enjoys a pity party.

But, even strangers on the street are far more willing to step up and come to our aid than we would initially assume, based on findings of a recent poll of 2,000 U.S. adults by Civic Science.  In fact, researchers found that most respondents underestimate the likelihood that someone will help them by as much as 50%.

And in an emergency—even considering our culture of self-reliance—fully 74% of respondents said they would ask for help.

It just depends on the situation. For example, on the road, men have been stereotyped as being too stubborn and unwilling to ask for driving directions. However, this is debunked easily by the data: The gender gap in this category is nearly nonexistent—with women comprising 51% of those who refuse to ask for directions.

And while nobody wants to look incompetent at work, the repercussions of not asking a question about an important assignment may override any hesitation to do so. In this poll, 41% said they would ask for assistance on a work issue, while 59% said they would not.

Based on average stress levels, it seems that those who do ask for help at work are far more likely to be stressed out on a daily basis than those who do not. Although this may seem counterintuitive, this suggests that employees who are seeking assistance really may have more responsibilities than they can handle on their own. As a result, asking for help could be more of a necessity than a choice, in order to keep work projects moving forward.

From the perspective of gender, those who do ask for help are split 50/50. However, those who do not ask for help are slightly more likely to be women. Of course, gender is not the only factor in determining who asks for help. Income also likely plays a role. Those who make less than $50,000 a year are least likely to ask for help. However, high earners are not the most likely to ask for help. It is, in fact, middle-income earners who are the most likely to reach out when they need assistance.

There are many reasons why this could be the case. It is possible that middle-income earners have more job responsibility, and therefore more potential questions than lower-income earners, while also having someone above them to whom they can turn with questions. High-income earners may already be at the top of the workplace hierarchy, and therefore left with fewer options when it comes to seeking advice.

That said, there is a direct link between asking for help and job satisfaction. Those who ask for help are much more likely to be “very happy” in their current jobs.

By comparison, 57% of women don’t hesitate to ask for help at home.This sharp contrast from the workplace statistics above suggests that gender continues to play a major role in how individuals behave in public and private spheres; and further, where people feel most supported

Finally, there comes a time in life when age or illness dictate that we must occasionally ask for assistance, no matter how loathe we are to do so. In fact, some of the oldest among us —the Baby Boomer generation—are the least likely to ask for a helping hand. Gen X-ers—who are in the prime of their lives, usually with family and friends—are the largest group of U.S. adults (38%) who feel comfortable asking for assistance.

Research contact: laurnie@civicscience.com

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