Having an enjoyable workplace and client base is a key to a well-run business, but for the sake of having a healthy work-life balance it is also important that the workload is evenly shared by the team. It is often the honest, reliable team member that everyone likes who often ends up being the one whose life is thrown out of balance by work overload.
Although the blame is regularly laid at the feet of over-demanding bosses, the workers who take on the extra duties are equally at fault…
Despite knowing that it is impossible to please others all the time, our desire to be liked and accepted by our peers is so great that many of us burn ourselves out trying to help others.
‘I have to admit I’m my own worst enemy,’ admitted Ruth, an overworked financial analyst for a top mutual fund. ‘When someone asks for help, I just don’t know how to say no and now I am taking on more than I can handle.’
It’s a scenario that is played out in virtually every small or large corporation and household in the country. Wanting to help others is an admirable trait but it inevitably leads to the ‘helper’ suffering from burnout and resentment.
So what do you do if a workmate or friend comes to you asking for help and you are fully engaged in important work of your own?
‘Just put yourself first and say no,’ preach many business and communication consultants.
But to me, people who have trouble saying ‘no’ don’t feel comfortable being so assertive. And having not been used to being assertive, they are unlikely to be all that effective at it. Their attempts at being assertive are often perceived by their peers as being overtly aggressive or rude, which creates unwanted disharmony.
If you have trouble saying ‘no’, you don’t have to suddenly transform yourself into an assertive four-star general. You still want to be your kind, helpful self but you don’t want to become overloaded helping others with their work. You don’t want to be taken for granted. You need a solution for the times that you are happy to help others – once you have completed your work and you have time to spare.
If you don’t like saying ‘no,’ or you don’t know how to say ‘no,’ then don’t say ‘no.’ Say ‘yes.’ Here’s how. When someone asks for your help finishing a certain project, you can reply, ‘Yes, I would love to help you with that. And I will be able to help you in 45 minutes [or however long you think it will take for you to complete your current task] when I have completed this.’
Now this is the important part: the person wanting help will tend to say ‘thanks’ and dump the paperwork on your desk, then go off and come back and get it later. It is like someone dumping all the baggage on their back (i.e. their responsibilities) on to you to look after. DO NOT EVER LET THIS HAPPEN. Don’t ever look after someone else’s baggage.
As they attempt to hand the paperwork (or baggage) to you, here is what you say as you hand it back to the rightful owner: ‘Just so I can help you as soon as possible, I need you to hang on to this [i.e. they keep responsibility] until I come and get you [you arrange to get them so you are not interrupted consistently]. I need to focus solely on this so I can help you as quickly as I can.’
You’ll find that when you make others aware of the duties that you need to complete, they will become more considerate and they will value your time and effort. If the other person’s task is really urgent, you’ll often find that by the time you get around to helping them, they have already worked out a solution to the problem.