“I couldn’t have done this without you.” Those words, when they come out of a manager’s mouth, may be music to our eager-to-please ears. But a desire to be seen as indispensable at work can come with a downside: In our attempt to go the extra mile (or 10), we may be sacrificing our own well-being.
It turns out, conscientious, highly dedicated employees are at greater risk of emotional exhaustion and conflict between their work and family responsibilities, according to a 2016 study from King’s College London and the University of Bath in the U.K. And other research has found that our drive to impress our boss and colleagues at every turn, borne out of hustle culture, comes at the high cost of burnout.
So how can you make your mark and add tremendous value without compromising your sanity and well-being? These tips can help:
Pause before you say yes
In a quest to be indispensable, some people bite off more than they can chew. If being a “yes-to-everything” person is leading you to the brink of burnout, the first step is to understand what’s causing your inability to set boundaries around your workload, says clinical psychologist Michelle Golland, Psy.D. Could it be, for instance, that you’re a people-pleaser, and you have a long-held belief that saying no will lead to rejection? Or does it come down to a need to control, and not trusting your colleagues to do a good job if you let them take the lead? Once you’re clear with yourself about your motivation, you may be more willing to let things go. Spoiler alert: Having too much on your plate can compromise the quality of your work, and that’s not a good strategy for winning over your boss — or anyone else.
Look for the grey areas
Black and white thinking can lead you to take on too much and risk burning out. After all, if “no” isn’t a realistic option, you might assume your only option is to say “yes”. But there’s usually a grey area or middle ground — a way to be a team player and contribute value without doing it all. For instance, if a higher-up asks for your involvement on a project and you truly don’t have the bandwidth to take it on, you can still provide support or offer to be a sounding board or a second pair of eyes, Golland suggests.
Train yourself to clock out
For an overachiever, there may be no end to the workday. But regularly letting work spill into your “off-hours” can lead to burnout over time. To prevent this, create your schedule so you have a set number of days per week where working late is simply not an option. And to make sure your most important tasks are getting done on these days, divide your to-do list into two columns: “critical” and “can wait.” Then, prioritize accordingly. At Thrive we call this “relentless prioritization” and “getting comfortable with incompletions.” Ultimately, embracing incompletions allows you to leave the office so you can recharge — and bring your indispensable self to work again the next day.