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Are you an Overfunctioner?

Sarah had all the attributes of a high functioning and valued executive – diligent, perfectionistic, goal oriented, responsible, reliable, energetic, a great communicator and an incredibly supportive manager to her team. It was no surprise to me that Sarah was Group Director of a thriving financial services company and seen by the CEO as his logical successor. Sadly by the time the company had realised there was a problem and sought support for Sarah it was too late and she resigned 3 days prior to our meeting. So what went wrong?

From early on in her career Sarah found that her team members were falling short of her high standards. It was often much easier to step in and fill the gaps herself rather than spend the time and effort to shift it back to them. On projects that required collaboration between teams Sarah soon found herself filling in the gaps this time for other team leaders. As she became associated with the consistent delivery of high quality projects the CEO sought her involvement on projects and issues well outside her job description and once again Sarah filled in the gaps.

Over time this lead to feelings of resentment building in Sarah, why was it that she was always the last one in the office ensuring the delivery of quality projects? An inner narrative developed that she was unsupported in her role both by the company and the people around her. There was little time for her self care and wellbeing and a belief developed that leaving her role was her only way out.

Sarah’s traits of hyper responsibility, perfectionism and over functioning bring a host of benefits and are common in highly successful people and much loved employees. Over time though they can end up being detrimental to your emotional and physical wellbeing and are the chief cause of burnout. The answer is not to throw attributes out or make them wrong. Rather the path is developing more conscious choice around when it is in your interest to engage in them and when it is not.

When left unchecked these traits make you vulnerable to developing an under functioning/over functioning dynamic with the people working for you, your fellow managers, as well as with the organisation itself. Situations result where eventually everyone looks to you to do their work and solve their problems. Exhaustion sets in, and feelings of resentment and anger towards people and the organisation are a natural consequence of this pattern.

Knowing this about your self is the essential first step towards preventing repetitive patterns in your working and personal life. Look at some of the common attributes of over functioners listed below and see if you recognise yourself.

The next step is developing the habit of the pause – if you are not able to pause, those compulsive behaviours will slip in before you can catch them.

Practice pausing in particular when you are being asked to do something or when you find yourself driven to jump in and fix something. A 5 second pause is enough to prevent your automatic responses. Ideally focus in on your breath whilst you are pausing as this will help activate your observer brain and de-activate your fast brain.

And finally after the pause try experimenting with new behaviours that where appropriate focus on your self care and/or encouraging the people and systems around you to raise their functioning. Remember if you are always over functioning for others it will mean you are more than often under functioning for yourself.

Signs You May be an Overfunctioner

Do you:
  • Find your self spending much of your time solving the problems of others.
  • Take on responsibility for the welfare of your organisation.
  • Neglect yourself in order to meet the needs of co-workers and the organisation.
  • Expect others to do it your way.
  • Jump in and offer advice and help before it is asked for.



Camilla Thompson

Author Camilla Thompson

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