We all like to be liked.
I think it be hard to find anyone who didn't want to be appreciated, rewarded, or recognised in some form or another.
I'm certainly someone who actively seeks external recognition and validation and whilst I do feel I have a strong sense of my internal self, I find myself just wanting to “fit in” sometimes, even if that’s on my terms.
I also like to be useful, I like to be busy and involved in projects and communities. I enjoy it when people come and ask me to do things, at work or outside of it, because they value my expertise/opinion or simply consider me enough of a friend to ask.
Recently I've been experiencing what has been termed “Generosity Burnout”.
Instead of being a pleasure, helping others has turned into something which seems to consume all of my spare time and most of my energy. It eats away at my time for relaxation and recreation to the point where I constantly feel emotionally depleted.
I've come to resent further requests on my time and have started to feel absolutely overwhelmed by my schedule - something which doesn't help my anxiety.
Ironically this means I can't actually help people as effectively... as I get stretched too thin and therefore can't always deliver on promises.
This is even extends to my social life, where I have started to find myself shying away from meeting friends for coffee/going out to dinner, simply because I don't have the emotional energy to engage in what should be very enjoyable conversation.
I don't say all of this to be all holier-than-thou-look-at-how-generous-I-am, because to be honest I don't think I’m an exception at all in my experience of this.
I think most people, if they analysed their time, would realise that they give a lot of it to others - whether that's helping children with homework, putting in extra hours at work or helping a friend through a crisis.
Some of this is obviously unavoidable and in many cases, actually quite enjoyable!
When it affects your ability to manage your workload, your mental health or your emotional state - that’s when you need to take action.
This is also a feminist issue
This generosity of time and effort in order to help other people is not only an issue of mental health, it’s also one of gender.
According to the Harvard Business Review, “Women are more likely to be selfess givers. It happens in workplaces around the world: Women are expected to do more of the helping, but they get less of the credit for it.”
Women also often end up “picking up” the tasks which are the least desirable, such as organising meetings, taking notes or simply tidying up the workplace. They also generally perform the bulk of the emotional labour - ensuring others are kept appeased and are supported.
I personally have experienced this in a number of past professional situations and it was beyond frustrating. Especially as emotional labour is rarely as highly rewarded as "real" labour.
What I’m doing to protect myself
“Being an effective giver isn’t about dropping everything every time for every person. It’s about making sure that the benefits of helping others outweigh the costs to you. Finding ways to give without depleting your time and energy.” Harvard Business Review, January 2017
- Learning to say no.
Oh boy, is this hard.... but I'm trying more and more to say no to things which I know will eat up my time or cause me a considerable amount of stress.
My default position is now no to all new requests for help, unless they can convince me otherwise.
This may mean that I miss out on some opportunities in the future, however it's already meant that I can give more of myself to a smaller number of projects. For me personally, this is so much more rewarding than a patchwork approach.
- Only spending two evenings out the house during the week.
It was getting to the point where I was spending 5 evenings a week at "extra-curricular" activities. I'd get in from the office, change and then immediately head out to a meeting, networking event or to meet someone for a work related chat.
- Turning off my phone after 8pm.
This is probably a good tip in general for anyone looking to have a bit more of a work/life balance. However what it also does is enforce reasonable expectations/limits on when people can get in contact with you (and when you respond to them).
- Implementing the following auto-response on my personal email account (shamelessly stolen from Tim Ferris):
Due to high workload, I am currently checking and responding to e-mail once every two days. If you require urgent assistance (please ensure it is urgent) that cannot wait a couple of days, please call me on my mobile or catch me on Twitter. Thank you for understanding this move to more efficiency and effectiveness. It helps me get more done so that I can answer questions much more helpfully!
Sincerely, Bethan Vincent
Have you experienced generosity burnout?
Do you have any more tips on dealing with it and managing people's expectations?
Let me know in the comments below!
Notes: This post was partly inspired by the January 2017 edition of the Harvard Business Review