Justin Goeglein, a chief engineer at New Eagle Consulting in Ann Arbor, Michigan, often works into the late hours of the night, juggling a multitude of projects, facing several deadlines, and never saying no to the next task. At work, he’s a natural “extra-miler” — but he is also exhausted and completely overwhelmed.
Goglein’s all-too-familiar story is just one of the several narratives detailed in a new Wall Street Journal report, analyzing the downsides to being the office rock star. “Star employees who always go the extra mile at work have it made. They bask in praise from bosses, customers, and clients,” the Journal’s work and family columnist writes. “Except when they don’t.”
Shellenbarger explains that these extra-milers — those workers who consistently take on new tasks, no matter how short their bandwidth — are at serious risk of burnout, masking the stress and anxiety that builds up while they’re busy jumping into the next project. “Most extra-milers avoid complaining about overwork, partly because they don’t want to look like whiners,” Dana Brownlee, founder of an Atlanta corporate training firm and author of The Unwritten Rules of Managing Up, tells the Journal.
On top of the inevitable symptoms of burnout, extra-milers often end up overshadowing co-workers who stop growing at work, Shellenbarger points out. And by refusing to complain, the ongoing task-doing can actually backfire on the rest of the team. In a 2015 study, researchers from University of Iowa looked at 87 work groups, and found that those who do the bulk of creative brainstorming on the team can take away learning experiences from colleagues. “Stars who do creative work,” says lead researcher and associate professor Ning Li, “tend to stifle individual co-workers, discouraging them from developing their own insights.”
The habit of always saying yes can amount in bottled-up stress and compromised work — so experts say monitoring your work habits is key when it comes to the team’s well-being, and your own. “There are principles we can use to figure out the schedules that allow us to do better work, and have more time for rest,” Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D, author of Rest and The Distraction Addiction, tells Thrive Global. According to Pang, setting boundaries at work is crucial to ensure you don’t burn out on the job, no matter how much you think you can handle.
If you constantly feel overwhelmed by the pressure of carrying the weight of your team, here are three vital steps to take:
Find the hours that work best for you
Pang says everyone finds productivity at different hours, and yes, there’s science behind our body’s individualized chronotypes, or internal clocks. In order to feel your best at work, you need to start by respecting yours. If you’re an early bird and you need set a definitive end to your day at 5 p.m., talk to your manager about the finding the hours that work best for you. “You need to test routines,” Pang suggests. “The schedule you followed in college won’t work when you’re a new parent or empty nester.” No matter what time of day you hit your peak performance, working around the clock will jeopardize your well-being and performance.
Set boundaries to guard against overload
“Respect nights and weekends” Pang urges, and don’t wait for your annual vacation to take a break. “Psychologists who study vacations say that regular breaks are more important for your health and productivity than the big annual vacation,” he says. Setting boundaries around your work hours can be seriously beneficial for your mental clarity, and if you feel that you simply have too much work to take a break, take that as a sign to slow down. “Delegate unmanageable work to others,” Shellenbarger adds. “Guard [yourself] against overload.”
Keep your teammates in mind
Even if you’re naturally inclined to say yes to every task that comes your way, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re part of a larger team, and sharing the work can actually benefit your colleagues, too. “Help co-workers grow their careers,” Shellenbarger recommends. “Invite co-workers’ ideas and suggestions.” By collaborating with others, you can save yourself from the pressure of doing it all yourself, and help those around you grow in their own roles. Remember that you’re on a team for a reason, and your co-workers’ help isn’t going to hurt you. “You can’t solve everything on your own,” Pang says. But you can burn yourself out trying.
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