People-pleasing is a lifelong challenge that impacts all areas of life. Relationships at home and at work often suffer the most – and many of us don’t even realize it.
I’m a therapist for millennials with anxiety and ADHD, and I work with a lot of high-achieving people-pleasers. Understanding what people-pleasing at work looks like – and how to stop – can vastly improve your anxiety, your mental health, and your career.
People-pleasing occurs when you can’t tolerate the idea of causing disappointment or pain to someone else. Think about the motivation behind your helpfulness in the workplace. Is it to avoid conflict or stay in your boss’s good graces? Maybe you’re worried if you don’t go above and beyond, you’ll get fired or demoted. Or maybe you just can’t stand the thought of disappointing anyone else. Your motivations likely stem from a desire to avoid conflict or negative emotions.
In the workplace, these behaviors and habits tend to be rewarded. If you put in extra work or are consistently available and helpful, people often thank you, express their gratitude for your presence, and even tell you their job would be so much harder without you. Comments like this can feel extremely gratifying, but they usually come at a cost.
People-pleasing comes with short-term feelings of accomplishment and success, but it isn’t sustainable in the long run. Trying to please everyone else to your own detriment only causes more problems down the road. People-pleasing often ultimately leads to burnout, resentment, and more conflict.
If your behaviors at work impair your nervous system, your daily job satisfaction, and your ability to function, it’s worth taking a closer look at your relationship with people-pleasing.
Here are six signs of people-pleasing in the workplace:
People-pleasing is pervasive, and it can be frustrating to realize that so many of your behaviors revolve around it. It’s normal to feel completely out of your element when you’re first becoming aware of or trying to overcome people-pleasing tendencies. With time, practice, and self-compassion, dismantling people-pleasing within yourself is entirely possible. It starts with setting boundaries.
Setting boundaries is the best way to reclaim your energy and mental health if you’re a people-pleaser. At work, this often means saying “no” more frequently – to extra tasks, to projects you don’t have time for, and to unnecessary events. Setting boundaries and saying no sound relatively straightforward, but they’re rarely easy. Here are some suggestions for how to start.
Reframe “no.” It’s not always possible to flatly refuse an assignment from your boss. If you know their request is going to interfere with your workload, explain to them that you’re willing to take on an additional task if something else can be dropped or deprioritized. That way, they understand that you’re flexible and willing to work with them, but that you aren’t willing to let yourself be completely swamped in the process.
Ask for help. If you’re used to doing everything on your own, consider starting to ask for help in small ways. This can feel scary at first, especially if you believe you’re the only one who can accomplish things in the “right” way. However, you don’t have to always be doing everything all the time. Asking for support with a project or task gives you practice in not overbooking yourself – and letting go of perfectionism.
Take up more space. If you’re a people-pleaser, you might be exceedingly uncomfortable taking up any space. This is because you don’t want to inconvenience or upset anyone, so you do your best to keep yourself small. Practicing taking up more space when appropriate can be a game-changer at work. It can look like:
People-pleasing can permeate your whole life in ways you don’t even realize. Trying to stop on your own can feel overwhelming, frustrating, and impossible. If you want support learning how to stop people-pleasing at work, consider therapy.
I’m here to help you come up with ways to set boundaries, sit with the discomfort of disappointing others, and change your behaviors to show up more authentically at work. Together, we’ll work to help you set goals for yourself, feel more empowered, and have the kind of life, relationships, and career you want.
I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation.
Danielle is an anxiety therapist. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.