Most of us are eager to help out or “lend a hand” when we see others struggling – particularly at work. It can feel good to be generous and share our time, skills, and expertise with our colleagues. But when we do it too often and say “yes” to too many things at once, it can cause generosity burnout (also known as “collaborative overload”).
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 are valued. But problems can creep in when you say “yes” to too many things at once or when it’s continuously expected that you’ll do so.
These high expectations from colleagues and your manager can soon lead to burnout and exhaustion – mental, physical, and emotional.
In this article, we’ll discuss the causes and dangers of generosity burnout and the steps you can take to avoid it.
What Is Generosity Burnout?
The term “generosity burnout” was first coined by Wharton professor of management Adam Grant and researcher Reb Rebele in an article published by Harvard Business Press in 2017.
They warned that the value provided by generous extra milers, who are often relied on and expected to pick up additional tasks other than their own, can fall if they become overwhelmed by requests.
According to Grant and Rebele, the main symptoms of generosity burnout are:
Physical and emotional burnout. Generosity burnout can occur when there are constant demands on your time. You may feel that you are being pulled in too many directions. This will likely impact the quality of your day-to-day work and 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. If this resentment doesn’t get addressed, it can affect your performance, morale, and emotional well-being.
Lack of engagement. 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 count, such as your team members, clients, or even 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 that they become complacent and unproductive. This can also increase the risk of the team’s work being delayed or quality dropping if you are absent or decide to leave the organization.
In the next section, we’ll explore some strategies you can use to protect yourself and your team members from generosity burnout.
The Generosity Spectrum
If you’re a manager, 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 favors and only give to others as much as they receive? Or perhaps they don’t contribute much and prefer to rely on star performers to pick up the slack.
According to Grant and Rebele, your team members will likely fall into one of four personality types on the “Generosity Spectrum.” These are:
Takers. 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 guilt about imposing on your time.
Matchers. 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 favor or a transaction and expect their generosity to be reciprocated in equal measure by those they help out.
Self-protective givers. 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 like they are being taken advantage of.
Selfless givers. This is essentially the unfettered extra miler. A selfless giver with a severe concern for others but a common problem 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.
Managing Hospitality Burnout
Once you’ve identified where you or your team members sit on the Generosity Spectrum, the next step is to explore strategies that will enable them to be both generous and productive in a sustainable way. There are four key strategies that you can use to do this:
1. Be a Smart Giver
Our work-life balance is one of the biggest things we risk when we suffer from generosity burnout. So, we must use our time and energy intelligently to ensure that we remain productive at work while safeguarding our home life.
Being an extra miler can often make you feel valued and valuable to your team and organization. But when you take on too much, it can also leave you feeling burdened. You might even find that you stay late or work during weekends to get everything done. When this happens, it can damage your work-life balance, which can impact your relationships and morale.
To combat this, managers need to help their people organize their time and workloads in an intelligent way. An excellent place to start is by documenting people’s tasks and their time on them. You can do this using a DILO timesheet. This information can then be used to delegate work appropriately so that no one becomes overburdened.
As a manager, you can also act as a “gatekeeper” for your people’s time and coach them on how to say “no” when a task falls outside of their role or responsibility. This will help them organize and prioritize their workloads more efficiently and protect their work-life balance.
2. Recognize the Difference Between Volume and Value
It can be hard to switch off because we’re “always on.” Smartphones, instant messaging, and social media make it easier than ever to “check in” with work, even when we aren’t there.
But this can cause us to become swamped with low-level, low-value requests from people that can eat into our time and cause us to lose focus on our primary goals. This often happens if word gets around – especially to “takers” – that we’re willing to help and enjoy putting others’ needs before our own.
Remember… don’t lose focus! Prioritize any requests and your daily tasks, and learn how to say “no” constructively and without offending. It is also essential to consider your value. Think about your strengths, interests, and personal goals, and “give” in ways that complement them.
3. Don’t Go it Alone
One of the best ways to go the extra mile for your organization without putting in the miles yourself is to develop your skills as a connector or a facilitator.
When you do this, you’ll be able to reduce the pressure on yourself while also fostering a collaborative work environment. This, in turn, can help to enhance team relationships and improve your delegation skills.
Of course, you need to find the right balance here. Don’t be tempted to pass on many requests to other people, as this will likely cause them to be resentful and 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 more qualified, ask if they can help. And, if you receive a request that will involve work that you particularly enjoy or that will enable you to get closer to your personal goals, then it’s a win-win for both of you!
4. Set Aside “Extra Miler Time.”
Your time is valuable. So be sure to do what you can to protect it. Set aside some dedicated time each day to deal with the additional requests and manage your emails. Choose carefully which meetings you will and will not attend. And make use of online scheduling tools, such as Asana or Todoist.
Setting up “out of office” or “do not disturb” notifications on your email and IM apps can also help. This will enable you to stay focused on existing tasks without getting distracted by new requests.
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 crucial to safeguard your “extra miler time” wherever possible.