Do you take on the team’s anxiety to protect them? Are you the one who takes care of everything—intervenes, takes control, gives unwarranted advice? If so, you might be over-functioning, and chances are, you learned this adaptive style of functioning in your family of origin.

Our default style of relating to others, handling stress, and forming connections is first developed in relationship with our caretakers and family members at a young age. As we mature, this default style is reinforced and fine-tuned with each new relationship we have. We can find ourselves relating, managing stress, and connecting at work the same way we learned to at home.

Over-functioning is an automatic default response to managing stress and anxiety. It’s when we take on too much responsibility and try to control, “fix,” or “rescue” people and situations. Sometimes it involves speaking harshly to someone who is under-functioning as you urge them to do things differently, or taking on their work rather than coaching them on how to complete it. Oftentimes, over-functioning is confused with being helpful.

We owe it to ourselves and our colleagues to examine and identify our default style of relating to others and responding to anxiety and stress. Over-functioning not only wears us down and leads to burnout, it also impedes our ability to get the most out of those who are underperforming. If you want to make a shift and interrupt your default over-functioning response, try this:

  • Pause.
  • Regulate or calm your own anxiety.
  • Determine how you want to behave.
  • Sit with the discomfort of letting other people be responsible for themselves.
  • Strive to engage in a way that is flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized, and stable.
  • Evaluate your own work in line with your values rather than seeking approval, attention, or assurance from others.

At the Center for Wellbeing at Work, we know that overperforming and underperforming are closely entwined and at the heart of many workplace wellbeing challenges. But there’s a path forward, and we look forward to supporting you on the journey.

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