Are you too generous with your time?
How to protect “extra milers” from overdoing it
By Angela Civitella
Understanding generosity burnout
One of the main challenges of generosity burnout is the assumption that “going the extra mile” is always a positive thing. It’s not!
If you’re an “extra miler” – someone who goes out of your way to help others and strives for excellence – you likely enjoy being the one who everyone relies on and whose extra input, dedication and contribution is valued. But problems can start to creep in when you are expected to do this.
These high expectations from colleagues, and even your manager, can soon lead to burnout and exhaustion – mental, physical and emotional. In fact, research warned that generous extra milers can fail if they become overwhelmed by requests and aren’t managed carefully.
One of the main challenges of generosity burnout is the assumption that ‘going the extra mile’ is always a positive thing. It’s not!
If this happens to you, you risk experiencing “generosity burnout.” This has negative consequences:
- Physical and emotional burnout
You may become burnt out by the constant demands on your time, and feel that you are being pulled in too many directions at once. This will likely impact the quality of your day-to-day work, and it can also lead to fatigue, stress and even ill-health.
- Resentment and poor morale
You may start to resent your co-workers’ demands and expectations, especially if you find it hard to say no to them.
- Lack of engagement with the people who really matter
You might find that you have become so busy dealing with everyone else’s demands that you no longer have time for the people who really count – for instance, your team members, your clients or your family members. They can soon become frustrated with your lack of engagement.
- Poor performance in others
Other team members may begin to take advantage of your generosity and rely on you so much that they become complacent and unproductive. This can also increase the risk of the team’s work being delayed and of poor quality if you are absent or decide to leave the organization.
So how can you continue to go that extra mile, while protecting yourself from generosity burnout? Or, if you’re a manager, how can you prevent your extra milers from becoming too burdened? We’ll explore some strategies for doing this below.
‘According to research, your team members will likely fall into one of four personality types on the ‘Generosity Spectrum.’
The generosity spectrum
The first step is to identify how much each of the people on your team contributes. Are any of them an extra miler? Do they trade favours and only give to others as much as they receive from them? Or perhaps they don’t contribute much at all and prefer to rely on star performers to pick up the slack.
According to research, your team members will likely fall into one of four personality types on the “Generosity Spectrum.” We’ll now take a look at each of the four personality types of the Generosity Spectrum in more detail.
- The taker
This person sees every interaction as an opportunity to advance their interests. They will behave as if they are entitled to your help and will feel little if any, guilt about imposing on your time.
- The matcher
A matcher takes but also gives back. They’re less selfish than a taker but will protect their time carefully. They see any additional work that they pick up as a favour or a transaction, and so will expect their generosity to be reciprocated in equal measure by those they help out.
- The self-protective giver
This person is generous but will evaluate the cost and impact of their generosity, both on themselves and the person they’re helping. They will limit their generosity if they’re too busy with high priority tasks or feel taken advantage of.
- The selfless giver
This is essentially the unfettered extra miler. A selfless giver with a high concern for others but a low concern for themselves. Their generosity knows no bounds, which makes them vulnerable to takers. However, by ignoring their own needs, they risk exhaustion and can actually end up being less effective and helpful to the team or organization as a result.
‘One of the best ways to go the extra mile for your organization without actually having to put in the miles yourself is to develop your skills as a connector or a facilitator.’
Managing generosity burnout
The second step is to find ways for you, and your team members, to be generous in a productive and sustainable way. Let’s look at some strategies for managing generosity burnout effectively.
- Be a smart giver
Our work-life balance is one of the biggest things that we risk when we suffer from generosity burnout. So, it’s important that we use our time and energy in a smart way, to ensure that we remain productive at work while safeguarding our home life.
- Recognize the difference between volume and value
It can be hard to switch off nowadays because we’re “always on.” Smartphones, instant messaging, and social media make it easier than ever for us to “check-in” with work, even when we aren’t there.
- Don’t go it alone
One of the best ways to go the extra mile for your organization without actually having to put in the miles yourself is to develop your skills as a connector or a facilitator. Of course, you need to find the right balance here. Don’t be tempted to pass on lots of requests to other people, as this will likely cause them to become resentful and may even damage your reputation as an extra miler.If you know that you are the best person for the job, take ownership of it but, if you think someone else is abler, then ask if they can help. And, if you receive a request that will involve work that you particularly enjoy or that will get you closer to your personal goals, then it’s a win-win for both of you!
- Set aside “extra miler time”
Dedicate specific time for dealing with the additional requests that you receive. Think, for instance, about how an academic professor schedules office hours to see her students or a congressman sets aside time for his district meetings, rather than dealing with queries and requests “on the hoof.” Of course, this may not always be realistic or practical if it’s your boss who’s doing the asking, because their requests will usually take priority. But, it’s important to safeguard your “extra miler time” wherever possible.
An extra miler can have a strong, positive influence on how a team operates. This is the person who gives up his time willingly to others, goes above and beyond his job role, and is always there to lend a helping hand.
But if his generosity goes unchecked and people become over-reliant on him, he can risk experiencing “generosity burnout.”
The term was first used by academics Adam Grant and Reb Rebele. It refers to the negative consequences of constant and unchecked generosity: physical and emotional burnout, resentment, poor morale, a lack of engagement with others, and poor performance by colleagues.
However, there are several things that you can do to avoid generosity burnout. Use your time and energy wisely, prioritize the most valuable tasks, ask for help, and learn how to say “no.”
Angela Civitella, a certified management business coach with more than 20 years of proven ability as a negotiator, strategist, and problem-solver creates sound and solid synergies with those in quest of improving their leadership and team-building skills. You can reach Angela at 514 254-2400 • linkedin.com/in/angelacivitella/ • intinde.com • @intinde