How To Be Helpful without Burning Out at Work

recent article in the New York Times, Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg talk about how selflessness and helping behavior are expected from women in the workplace, both as supervisors and as colleagues. Scholar Joyce Fletcher explains that many women place a high value on helping others and being a team player. Others also expect us to be helpful, nurturing, and generous with our time and talents. Yet Grant and Sandberg cite several studies showing that when women help others by being informal mentors, volunteering to organize office parties or charity events, and offering to support colleagues, they benefit less from it than men do. And “if a woman declines to help a colleague, people like her less and her career suffers. But when a man says no, he faces no backlash. A man who doesn’t help is ‘busy’; a woman is ‘selfish.’” These different expectations set up another double bind for women—we are expected to do extra helpful things that men are not expected to do, which may cause us to miss career opportunities. And if we don’t help, we are disliked and receive lower performance ratings. Grant and Sandberg also report that an analysis of 183 studies, spanning 15 countries and dozens of industries, shows that women are significantly more likely to feel emotionally exhausted. They note that “in their quest to care for others, women often sacrifice themselves. For every 1,000 people at work, 80 more women than men burn out.” Here are three ways women and men can prevent burnout for women:

  1. Track and reward helping behavior. Most organizations track and reward individual accomplishments but do not require or reward communal helping behavior. Expecting both women and men to be helpful to the team by assigning communal tasks rather than relying on volunteers and rewarding or valuing helping behavior from both women and men will help to correct the imbalance that often exists.
  2. Prioritize our own needs as women. Remember Tammy? She forgot to make her own needs as important as the needs of her staff. She will actually be more helpful to them if she takes care of herself and does not burn out. In his recent book, Give and Take, Grant explains that to achieve high performance with low burnout, people need to prioritize their own needs along with the needs of others.
  3. Men can speak up more to support women and share the load. In a previous article, I shared research showing that men tend to dominate meetings and interrupt women. Instead, men can speak up to draw attention to women’s contributions and can do their share of the team support work and mentoring.
Let’s be clear. Organizations and teams need helping behavior to be successful, but that work needs to be equitably shared by both women and men to be done effectively. Please share ways you have found to help at work without burning out.]]>

1 thought on “How To Be Helpful without Burning Out at Work”

  1. Anne,
    I’m enjoying rummaging around in your blog posts. This one struck me particularly, following a conversation with our daughter this week about her overstretched work life. She talked about all the extra things she does to “do it right” that sap her time and energy. I’ll be sending her your book!
    G.

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