A big assignment just hit your supervisor’s desk, and he has to form a team to get the job done before deadline. There’s one person he knows he can count on without a second thought. Is that person you? Are you the one your boss and team mates call on when another hand is needed to complete a big project? Have you gained a reputation for being the “go to” guy (or gal) at the office? While it’s great to feel needed and appreciated, always being on call can backfire. One problem is that you could eventually get taken advantage of because everyone expects you to pitch in at a moment’s notice. Another issue that may go unnoticed is burnout.
When helping becomes a habit, it can start to have a negative impact. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that the more requests an employee accepted, the more depleted they felt. One of the study’s co-authors, Russell E. Johnson, proposes that accepting more than three help requests a day starts to wear a worker down.
We do recommend being a team player, but it’s important to be aware of your limits. Sometimes team playing can become extreme. It is possible to be overly helpful—so much so that you become stressed out, overwhelmed, and then begin to perform below your usual level when it comes to your own assignments.
Feeling compelled to say “yes”
If the situation is more a matter of you feeling like you have to help all of the time, figure out why. Are you afraid of not being liked or losing your job? If people pleasing is the issue, this has to be addressed before you become so overwhelmed that you can’t even do your own job. Explore why you feel the need to please and work on learning to see that you are more than what you can do. Accomplishments are great, but remember that you also have value aside from what you have achieved or what you can offer.
Deciding when to say “no”
Eventually, there comes a point where you just have no more to give. You’ll know it’s time to put your foot down and refuse extra assignments when the helping begins to hurt. If you’re starting to experience symptoms of burnout such as lack of concentration, unusual stress, and lack of energy, you’ll need to let your supervisor know you need to pull back a bit so you can focus on your own work.
Remember that your work life must have balance. When you say “no” too often, this can also cause some friction at work. So know when to lend a hand and when to sit one out. While it’s great to lend a helping hand, sometimes it’s best to step back and let someone else handle the dirty work.
Knowing when to move on
There will be times when your office is understaffed and there’s no other choice but to roll up your sleeves and dive into an extra project. However, it’s important to recognize when it’s getting to a point that the behavior demonstrated toward you is becoming abusive. The next time an important project comes up, be observant. Are you the only one being called on, or is your supervisor dumping work on everyone equally?
If you noticed that you’re being singled out, bring it up to your boss. He or she may not even realize you’re being over-utilized. Remember to be respectful. You don’t want your attempts to make your boss more aware turn into a heated argument. Then you’ll have a whole different issue on your hands. Gently (yet firmly) talk to your boss and express your concern. If nothing changes, and you’re told to just accept it and stop whining, you may want to explore employment elsewhere.