You Can Actually Burn Yourself Out by Being Too Helpful
Categories: Work

You Can Actually Burn Yourself Out by Being Too Helpful

Following the golden rule is one of the best things you can do to conquer life this year. It does the world a ton of good to be extra kind with your friends and family and at your job (no one likes an office mean girl!), and generosity toward others is also one of the small things you can to do invite a little bit more luck into your life. But while going out of your way to do all you can to improve the lives of people around you is an amazing way to live, there’s a dangerous and potentially harmful drawback to over-giving that you really need to know about. Thanks to professor and author Adam Grant, The Wharton School research manager Reb Rebele, and the Harvard Business Review, we recently learned exactly what “generosity burnout” feels like — and how to finally fix it.

Symptoms of Generosity Burnout

Not too shockingly, generosity burnout shares A LOT in common with career burnout symptoms you might’ve read about (or felt first-hand). Its sneaky signs range from decision-making fatigue to flat-out physical exhaustion, depression, and lack of motivation — and when it’s not tended to, the burnout can contribute to scary conditions like adrenal fatigue. Though you might not manage your energy levels as carefully when you think you’re the only one feeling the effects, as the Harvard Business Review cover story powerfully reminds us, “Selflessness at work leads to exhaustion — and often hurts the very people you want to help.”

If you’re looking to take better care of yourself and crush your career goals this year (which we bet you are), keep reading to familiarize yourself with the two types of giving and how understanding the difference between them will allow you to keep helping while still ensuring your health is a top priority.

Types of Givers

According to Grant and Rebele, there are six basic types of givers. Consider the profile breakdowns below to see where you fit:

  • Experts share knowledge.
  • Coaches teach skills.
  • Mentors give advice and guidance.
  • Connectors make introductions.
  • Extra-milers show up early, stay late, and volunteer for extra work.
  • Helpers provide hands-on task support and emotional support.

Understanding which giver profiles resonate with you is ultra-important, because it will help you recognize how best to share yourself with the people around you. Knowing what type of help to offer can be a total game-changer when it comes to avoiding burnout, keeping your energy levels high, and feeling awesome about how you contribute.

Controlling How You Help Makes a *Huge* Difference

Once you’ve nailed down how you’re best able to give based on the profile that suits you, you’re in a great spot to seek out opportunities that are perfect for your type. This is called proactive giving, and it allows you to share your time and talents in majorly fun and natural ways by doing things you’ll really enjoy. This could be planning to arrive early at a meeting to help prep handouts, offering to help friends with their upcoming move, setting up an old classmate with a job opportunity, scheduling time with a new colleague to help them get up to speed on a project, or teaching bae to cook your signature dish because they love it so much.

Reactive giving, on the other hand, is when you wait for someone to make a request and then go out of your way to respond to it — like when a coworker asks you to read over an email before they hit send, your sister calls you up because she needs you to come over and babysit tonight, or your boss waits until right before their meeting to tell you they need the latest numbers. Because reactive giving is based on immediate needs, it’s often spontaneous, presenting itself as a huge interruption. Unfortunately, that often means you feel obligated to pause or completely abandon what you were doing in order to help out.

A new study showcased in the Harvard Business Review article proves that it’s reactive giving that’ll totally get you when it comes to burning out — unsurprisingly, Grant and Rebele’s study of a Fortune 500 tech company also shows that 60 percent of people would like to spend significantly less time on it. As it turns out, being able to choose how and when to help is the real game-changer: Where reactive giving wears you out, proactive giving takes you in the complete opposite direction, standing a pretty good chance of lighting you up inside! It also helps you narrow your focus to areas where you can make the biggest impact, reminding you (and everyone else) how much your talents and effort make a difference. Woohoo!

Still feeling bad about cutting back on how much you help and when? Don’t! Research shows that prioritizing your own well-being is ultimately more productive and helpful for everyone: “Across industries, the people who make the most sustainable contributions to organizations — those who offer the most direct support, take the most initiative, and make the best suggestions — protect their time so that they can work on their own goals too.” Sounds super solid to us.

Has helping others burned you out? Tell us your story on Twitter @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)