Stop being an overachiever at work

Stop being an overachiever at work

Singapore - IT'S a good thing to be seen as capable and reliable at work. But when taken to the extreme, it can saddle an overachieving employee with extra work and unfair expectations, while less proficient colleagues cruise along for the same pay.

This is increasingly backed by research which found that people do, in fact, assign more work to workers who are perceived as more competent, in a paper titled The burden of responsibility: Interpersonal costs of high self-control.

In moments of crisis, these are the people co-workers turn to. Findings suggest that overachievers are not happy with this dynamic either, experiencing greater stress and tension with their team.

While burnout and strained relationships are not surprising, a more insidious consequence is that it can also limit one's career progression. For example, managers may be reluctant to promote overachieving workers because they have become "indispensable" in their current role.

Overachiever or high performer

There is a fine line between a high performer and an overachiever: knowing the difference can make or break your career.

Overachieving employees, while being able to exceed targets and do well from a micro-perspective, may not be seen as having the potential or ability to grow and succeed in the organisation, says Samir Bedi, partner, People Advisory Services, Ernst & Young Solutions.

This is because such individuals often miss the big picture, spending all their time on low-value work that can be done by just about anybody instead of finding ways to create value for the organisation.

High performers, on the other hand, think strategically and focus on long-term goals, rather than focusing only on the completion of short-term tasks, according to Karen Blal, regional director - Asia, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

As a result, they are able to live a balanced life while overachievers will sacrifice personal time and work long hours to get the job done.

Ms Blal also observes that overachievers tend to find it hard to prioritise as they see everything as equally important. Coupled with their need for perfection, these workers risk burnout and find it hard to bounce back from failure.

Hurting your career

Overly competent people may like the feeling of being indispensable, but being the go-to person at work can have career consequences.

Firstly, it can affect team dynamics in the office. Such workers risk alienation from colleagues for being the boss's pet, and are likely to resent colleagues who are not as conscientious.

Toxicity aside, having a reputation as a workhorse means that you are likely to be taken advantage of. If you find yourself often assigned tasks by bosses and colleagues with nothing to show for it aside from a pat on the back, you are reinforcing the belief that it is okay to pile more work on you.

Ultimately, being a people-pleasing pushover demonstrates to management that you lack the maturity or leadership quality needed to take it to the next level.

But the biggest risk of being too good at one's work is that the person becomes so central and critical to the job that there is no succession plan in place, says Mr Bedi.

"Often, managers may resist moving an overly competent employee to another division for their learning and experience because the gap they may create in their current work may not be easily filled," he explains.

The hard truth is that the hardest workers don't always get promoted - but the most strategic ones who demonstrate their value do.

Fixing the damage

So, if being an overachiever resonates with you, it's not too late to change things. This means taking stock of your current career and growth trajectory, and arranging for a meeting with your superiors.

List down every single piece of work or project that you are handling and go through it with your manager to find out what your priorities should be. Your manager might not even be fully aware of what you do.

Be clear on what your career aspirations are and ensure that the work you will be doing is aligned to the attainment of the goals agreed upon by the manager and yourself.

Once this is out of the way, be firm in saying no to work that is not in line with these goals. Old habits die hard, so ask yourself each time you are asked to work on something: Will this benefit me?

Short of sounding utilitarian, being able to manage your workload and letting your colleagues pick up some of the slack will benefit all parties in the long run.

This may entail coaching your less competent colleagues and watching them struggle at first, but it is crucial to let them do the work, even if you can do a better job yourself. Rein in your inner perfectionist and stop the unnecessary guilt-trip if you want to advance in your career.

Aside from talking to your boss about your workload, Mr Bedi says that it is also critical that employees utilise career conversations to determine the kind of learning and development that is available in the current job. "Having an open talk with managers will help overachievers understand where they currently stand and their estimated potential in the organisation," he says.

However, if managers are not forthcoming and you sense that your career progression is not a priority, it may be wise to evaluate if it's worthwhile staying on in the department. This is especially so if performance and extra work are constantly not rewarded and management does nothing to alleviate the unfair work allocation even after the issue has been raised.


This article was first published on June 4, 2016.
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