The extra mile. One hundred and ten percent. Down to the wire. Crunch time. These are the things we’re expected to do at work. But you should never do them.
Most people assume that working harder than everyone else will put you ahead. If you can save the day on an important project or come to the rescue and solve a crisis, that has to count in your favor when it comes time for the next promotion. Right?
Well, maybe. There are consequences to workplace heroics. If you do something you don’t normally do, that abnormality sends signals throughout the organization. Consider the following:
- Sustainability and expectations – Anyone can go the distance once in a while. But you can’t run at top speed continuously. Not only do we all need breaks, if we push extra hard we’re more likely to crash and burn. Every time you do something exceptional, you teach others to believe this is typical.
- Contribution and availability – You get a lot done at work. But if you stay late one night, or come in over one particular weekend, that extra effort implies that you have the time available in your schedule to pitch in. It may not always be the case that you are free most nights and weekends. But again, you are giving subtle (albeit unintentional) hints that your schedule has room.
- Resentment – Everyone loves a winner, except for all the people who didn’t come in first place. When you’re a hero, others may start to dislike you. They may sense that you are trying to grab power or affection, and therefore feel threatened.
- Opportunity cost – If you’re frequently burning the midnight oil, then what are you not doing? Chances are you may be failing to keep your word elsewhere. One social psychology study noted that “participants valued keeping a promise much more highly than breaking one, [but that] exceeding the promise conferred virtually no additional happiness.” In other words, just doing what you say you’re going to do is enough.
And as Jeb Banner points out in the article, people who position themselves as “office heroes” often are subtly contributing to actually creating situations where their “heroics” are needed. They may not be as forthcoming with details that need to be shared with the team on a project. That lack of sharing might create an actual crisis. Of course, since the “hero” is the only one who has the necessary information, he or she must naturally step in and save the day.
These office heroes operate under the delusion that the company cannot survive without them. Because of that, they often work longer hours or refuse to take vacation time. The result isn’t that their increased presence helps the company. To the contrary, by spreading themselves so thin, they reduce their own productivity and effectiveness. That, in turn, can create other crises. And if there’s a culture that encourages competition for the role of hero, that means that this can develop into a continuous cycle of crashing, burning and rescuing. That takes its toll on the entire team.
If you want to do something radical in your life, focus on making plans and keeping them. When people ask for favors or give you assignments, think carefully. Answer honestly. And if circumstances change, let them know.
Don’t be a hero. Instead, be consistently good. Perform your role to the best of your ability. If everyone on your team does that, there will be fewer crises that need any heroes. Most importantly, you’ll earn more respect, and you’ll get better every day.