People talk a lot about workplace burnout but they don't always understand what it is, or how to prevent it. In my work as a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, I've seen many cases of workplace burnout and in my experience, it often comes from the employee being too "nice."
What does it look like when you're too nice at work? It's when you do more than your fair share. You come in early, stay late, take on extra tasks, and in general do more than what it says in your job description.
If you're too nice, it's usually because you're trying to win the approval of your boss, and perhaps your colleagues, as well. You're trying to find validation by showing the people you work with how helpful and accommodating you can be.
Being too nice at work is meant to win you approval and praise, but instead you end up feeling exploited.
If you're too nice at work, you're the person who everyone turns to when they're feeling overloaded. When people are out sick or on vacation, they know that you're the one who'll always pick up the slack.
Even if they're piling unreasonable amounts of work on you, you'll always do your best to complete it. Even if your workplace is giving you more and more work to do with less and less support, you'll try to please your managers and co-workers by getting the job done.
The problem is that it's overwhelming to be always doing more than your fair share in your workplace. Being the "nice" person at work invariably leads to mounting stress, exhaustion, frustration and ultimately burnout, when you can no longer cope with the pressures of having to over-perform.
Being too nice at work is meant to win you approval and praise, but instead you end up feeling exploited. Once you've set yourself up as the person who'll always be there for everyone, you create unreasonable expectations in your colleagues and managers.
Your supervisors and co-workers could easily start taking you for granted, and demand more and more from you. Instead of appreciating everything you do, they could up the ante, which will lead to your being more and more over-worked.
Sometimes, if your boss or colleagues perceive you as trying too hard to find approval, they'll begin to look down on you. They might behave rudely or even resort to bullying behaviour. In this way, being too nice at work can bring you exactly the opposite reactions to what you were hoping for.
It's time to see that people-pleasing is the wrong approach.
When you're working too hard, trying to make everyone happy and being treated with disrespect, contempt or even bullying, it's easy to become burnt out.
I remember my patient Jessica, a 30-something office worker who couldn't understand why the harder she tried to please her boss, the worse her boss was treating her.
I think of Anthony, who was becoming resentful and starting to act out childishly at work, because no matter how hard he tried to be nice, he wasn't receiving the approval he was seeking.
I remember Norman, who took one, then another, then another sick leave for exhaustion. Sadly, all his time off didn't help because whenever he returned to work, he'd get right back into his habit of over-doing it. Finally, he had to leave work permanently.
I can think of Patricia, who was shocked to receive a lukewarm review after she'd been working 11-hour days trying to be "nice." Instead of appreciating her efforts, Patricia's boss began to expect more and more from her. Ultimately, this resulted in his being disappointed with her performance and Patricia feeling devastated by his negative reaction.
If you've been giving your all at work and are wondering why everything you're doing is having the opposite effect to what you were hoping for, it's time to see that people-pleasing is the wrong approach. You'll need to find a way to do your job instead of over-doing it.
Before you have to leave work because of burnout, or find yourself demoted or fired, take a cue from the experiences of Jessica, Anthony, Norman and Patricia, and learn to let go of your people-pleasing behaviour. Instead of being so nice and having it backfire on you, it's time to finally give up this counter-productive habit at work.
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Stressors can be internal feelings, external behaviors or external influences. Dr. Betty Burrows notes that stressors can come in many forms, such as changes in your relationships, chemical influences such as alcohol or nicotine, noise pollution or physical deprivations including not enough sleep. Pinpoint the thing or things in your life that start to lead you down the road to no return and increase physical aliments such as headaches or sleeplessness.
Now that you know what you're dealing with, it is easier to take small quick actions to break the stress and tension cycle. Walk away from an angry co-worker or a crying baby by taking a walk around the block. This allows you to step away from the scene of your stress and not give into someone else's anxiety. If stepping outside isn't available to you, go into another room to grab a glass of water or hightail it into the bathroom and count to 100.
Deciding to be realistic and turn your negative thoughts into positive ones will take some time, but the power of positive thinking has proven benefits, according to researchers at the Mayo Clinic. Start simply by checking in with yourself throughout the day and spinning your negative thoughts into positive ones. Spill coffee on your desk? At least it missed your computer. Didn't make it to the bank before closing? Another walk to the bank tomorrow will give you some fresh air. If all else fails, laugh at yourself. It's not the end of the world.
e it exercise, meditation, getting more sleep, or dancing around your apartment, it's time to get physical. While it makes sense that things like exercise are good for your body, Harvard Medical School links the neurochemical effects of physical activity to reduced levels of stress hormones. You can also use your mind to relax your body. The endorphins released by physical or positive mental activity generate feelings of relaxation and optimism, just what you need to counteract the stressors bringing you down.
Giving yourself time to recover from stressful situations is key. Find ways to counteract your daily activities that will recharge your batteries. If you have a sales job and you talk to people all day, then turn your phone off at home. If you're stuck in a boring job that doesn't mentally challenge you, find goal-oriented tasks to do at home or pick up a crossword puzzle. If you constantly travel for work, insist on a few days in between flights to relax at home.
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