Ed’s note: This guest post was written by Martine Beaumont, founder and CEO of Select Wellness.
Sarah had all the attributes of a high functioning and valued executive – diligent, perfectionistic, goal oriented, responsible, reliable, energetic, a great communicator and an incredibly supportive manager to her team. It was no surprise to me that Sarah was group director of a thriving financial services company and seen by the CEO as his logical successor. Sadly, by the time the company had realised there was a problem and sought support for Sarah, it was too late and she resigned three days prior to our meeting. So what went wrong?
From early on in her career, Sarah found that her team members were falling short of her high standards. It was often much easier to step in and fill the gaps herself rather than spend the time and effort to shift it back to them. On projects that required collaboration between teams, Sarah soon found herself filling in the gaps this time for other team leaders. As she became associated with the consistent delivery of high-quality projects, the CEO sought her involvement on projects and issues well outside her job description, and, once again, Sarah filled in the gaps.
Perfectionism and over-functioning bring a host of benefits and are common in highly successful people. Over time, though, they are the chief cause of burnout.
Over time, this led to feelings of resentment building in Sarah; why was it that she was always the last one in the office ensuring the delivery of quality projects? An inner narrative developed that she was unsupported in her role – both by the company and the people around her. There was little time for her self-care and wellbeing, and a belief developed that leaving her role was her only way out.
Sarah’s traits of hyper-responsibility, perfectionism and over-functioning bring a host of benefits and are common in highly successful people and much-loved employees. Over time, though, they can end up being detrimental to your emotional and physical wellbeing and are the chief cause of burnout. The answer is not to throw attributes out or make them wrong. Rather the path is developing more conscious choice around when it is in your interest to engage in them and when it is not.
When left unchecked, these traits make you vulnerable to developing an under functioning/over functioning dynamic with the people working for you, your fellow managers, as well as with the organisation itself. Situations result where eventually everyone looks to you to do their work and solve their problems. Exhaustion sets in, and feelings of resentment and anger towards people and the organisation are a natural consequence of this pattern.
Knowing this about yourself is the essential first step towards preventing repetitive patterns in your working and personal life. Look at some of the common attributes of over-functioners listed below and see if you recognise yourself.
The habit of the pause
The next step is developing the habit of the pause – if you are not able to pause, those compulsive behaviours will slip in before you can catch them.
Practice pausing, in particular when you are being asked to do something or when you find yourself driven to jump in and fix something. A five-second pause is enough to prevent your automatic responses. Ideally, focus on your breath while pausing as this will help activate your observer brain and deactivate your fast brain.
And, finally, after the pause, try experimenting with new behaviours that, where appropriate, focus on your self-care and encouraging the people and systems around you to raise their functioning. Remember, if you are always over-functioning for others it will mean you are more than often under-functioning for yourself.
Signs you may be an overfunctioner
Find yourself spending much of your time solving the problems of others?
Take on responsibility for the welfare of your organisation?
Neglect yourself in order to meet the needs of co-workers and the organisation?
Expect others to do it your way?
Jump in and offer advice and help before it is asked for?