The price of being a people-pleaser can be steep — especially for your mental health.
People-pleasers are especially prone to burnout at work, says Debbie Sorensen, a Harvard-trained clinical psychologist based in Denver.
"They tend to be very kind, thoughtful people, which makes it that much harder for them to set boundaries, not take on too much work or get emotionally invested in their jobs," says Sorensen.
And being a constant yes-person is a double-edged sword: You might feel guilty telling others "no," and resentment every time you say "yes."
You don't need to let go of your people-pleasing tendencies entirely to avoid burnout — past research has shown that being polite, friendly and supportive at work are all important traits that can help you be more productive and happier in your job.
The difference, Sorensen explains, is that people-pleasers tend to have difficulty setting boundaries, which can be "really exhausting" and lead to "chronic stress," she warns.
If you frequently take on more responsibility than you can comfortably manage because you're afraid of disappointing someone, your people-pleasing tendencies could be pushing you to the brink of burnout.
While people-pleasing looks different for everyone at work, Sorensen says there are three common signs to watch out for:
- Saying "yes" to every request for help, even if it interrupts your own work
- Disregarding your feelings when something is done or said that upsets you because you fear potential conflict
- Agreeing to unrealistic assignment deadlines
People-pleasing isn't just dangerous for your career because it can lead to burnout — it can make you lose sight of your own needs and professional goals.
"When you are constantly putting other people's needs before your own, it becomes that much harder to focus on your work and advance in your career," says Sorenson.
The first step in alleviating overwhelm and burnout is learning how to set boundaries.
"It can be uncomfortable to set boundaries at work, but next time you're tempted to pile more responsibilities on your plate, pause and ask yourself if you really want, or need, to take that on. And fight the knee-jerk reaction to say 'yes' to everything," says Sorensen.
Curbing burnout and letting go of the habits that might be doing you more harm than good is an imperfect process that takes time, says Sorensen, so be consistent in your efforts, but try to avoid the pitfalls of self-criticism.
Don't look at saying "no" as a reflection of your self-worth or capabilities. Instead, think of setting boundaries as you protecting your energy, goals and priorities so you can be a more effective employee, says Sorensen.
"You just have to keep tuning in and reminding yourself that time off from work, in any amount, is really, really important," she adds, whether it's resisting the urge to work after-hours or taking a longer lunch break. "We all deserve the time and space to recharge."
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