Jun 28, 2016

    Overachieving may not get you that promotion

    IT'S a good thing to be seen as capable and reliable at work.

    But when taken to the extreme, it can saddle an over-achieving employee with extra work and unfair expectations while less proficient colleagues cruise along for the same pay.

    This is increasingly backed by research, which has found that people do, in fact, assign more work to workers who are perceived as more competent, in a paper titled The Burden Of Responsibility: Interpersonal Costs Of High Self-control.

    In moments of crisis, these are the people co-workers turn to.

    Findings suggest that overachievers are not happy with this dynamic either, experiencing greater stress and tension with their team.

    While burnout and strained relationships are not surprising, a more insidious consequence is that it can also limit one's career progression.

    For example, managers may be reluctant to promote overachieving workers because they have become "indispensable" in their current role.


    There is a fine line between a high performer and an overachiever.

    Overachieving employees, while being able to exceed targets and do well from a micro-perspective, may not be seen as having the potential or ability to grow and succeed in the organisation, said Samir Bedi, partner, People Advisory Services, Ernst & Young Solutions.

    Such individuals often miss the big picture, spending all their time on low-value work that can be done by just about anybody instead of finding ways to create value for the organisation.

    High performers, on the other hand, think strategically and focus on long-term goals, according to Karen Blal, regional director - Asia, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. They are able to live a balanced life while overachievers will sacrifice personal time and work long hours to get the job done.

    Ms Blal also observes that overachievers tend to find it hard to prioritise as they see everything as equally important. Coupled with their need for perfection, they also risk burnout and find it hard to bounce back from failure.

    Overly competent people may like the feeling of being indispensable but they may face career consequences.

    Firstly, it can affect team dynamics in the office. Such workers risk alienation from colleagues for being the boss' pet.

    Having a reputation as a workhorse means that you are likely to be taken advantage of.

    If you find yourself often assigned tasks by bosses and colleagues with nothing to show for it, you are reinforcing the belief that it is okay to pile more work on you.

    But the biggest risk is that the person becomes so central and critical to the job that there is no succession plan in place, said Mr Bedi.

    "Often, managers may resist moving an overly competent employee to another division for their learning and experience because the gap they may create in their current work may not be easily filled," he explained.

    The hardest-working employee does not always get promoted - but the most strategic ones who demonstrate their value do.


    So, if being an overachiever resonates with you, it's not too late to change things. This means taking stock of your current career and growth trajectory, and arranging for a meeting with your superiors.

    List down every single piece of work or project that you are handling and go through it with your manager to find out what your priorities should be.

    Be clear on what your career aspirations are and ensure that the work you will be doing is aligned to the attainment of the goals agreed upon by the manager and yourself.

    Be firm in saying no to work that is not in line with these goals.

    Managing your workload and letting your colleagues pick up the slack will benefit all parties in the long run.

    This may entail coaching your less competent colleagues and watching them struggle at first but it is crucial to let them do the work, even if you can do a better job yourself.

    Rein in your inner perfectionist and stop the unnecessary guilt-trip if you want to advance in your career.