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My New Year Career Resolution: Stop Being a Saint at Work.

Do you need to be a little more selfish for your own sanity?

Do you:

  • Do your own job and someone else’s work as well
  • Take on extra, unpaid responsibilities and get frustrated when your efforts seem unappreciated
  • Do tasks below your pay-grade because everyone else is too busy to do them
  • Get feedback that you are ‘lovely’ but your team really want you to be more strategic, speed up work-flow and push back on their behalf
  • Volunteer for committees and projects that distract you from your priorities
  • Think you work harder than other people
  • Waste time in meetings that you should have declined
  • Feel that other people balance work and family life far better than you
  • Don’t delegate enough because it takes too long to explain the task
  • Feel you never have time for yourself
  • Neglect your own networking and development
  • Struggle to meet deadlines because you are constantly interrupted
  • Feel taken for granted

If you get in your own way like this you might be adding emotional labour to your load. This is the unpaid, unappreciated effort that we take on because we believe that’s how we should conform to expectations.


Links have been established between surface acting, burnout and retention


It was coined by American sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild to refer to service workers and the unpaid labour involved in smilingly looking after others all the time.

This is called surface acting – pretending to behave in a certain way (too nice) when inside we want to scream. Links have been established between surface acting, burnout and retention. Our feelings have to come out somehow or eventually we flip our lid. We need to say what we mean, not dance around the message.

We are hard-wired to belong and take responsibility for each other. At work, equal measures of compassion and candour build trust. Misplaced caring, where we avoid tough conversations, is exhausting and harmful and destroys trust.

I see this a lot with kind managers who confuse leading with nurturing. Employees don’t want co-dependent mother hen managers. They create extra stress – ‘my boss is lovely but it is really hard to get time with her and she should stand up for us more.’ We need straight-talking – clear goals, guidelines, challenges, rewards, lots of feedback and to know our boss has our back if necessary.


You can stand up for yourself without damaging relationships


Of course, there is never an excuse for being unkind or rude. Look around you – successful people control their professional boundaries with grace and charm. Putting yourself first sometimes is kindest to yourself and also to others who look to you as a role model.

You can stand up for yourself without damaging relationships. It’s not letting people down, it’s just being professional and will increase the respect that people have for you.

Try this:

  • I’d like to get involved in that but I simply don’t have capacity. I think X is looking for an opportunity like this – shall I introduce you?
  • I can do that, I’ve just got these priorities and when I’m done with them I can start it.
  • Let’s take a step back here. What are we trying to achieve? Where do we need to put our effort in and how much can we let go?
  • What’s most important right now – how does this fit in?
  • How much of this needs to be perfect, what can we just get over the line?
  • No, sorry that’s just not do-able.
  • No, sorry that’s not what we do.
  • I can do that but it’s simply not the best use of my time or resources.
  • Sorry, that’s just not enough notice to get it done within that timescale.
  • I’d love to help but don’t have the time/capacity/resources/bandwidth
  • I can do that but it would mean a delay to work that other people need, so it will have to wait until those jobs are completed first.
  • I’ve got fifteen minutes available at the end of the day – can we do it then?
  • What help do I need to get this done?
  • If a job’s worth doing I still don’t have to do it myself.
  • Not everything needs to be perfect.
  • A job isn’t always worth doing well, sometimes it just needs to get done quickly and not by me.
  • Who can I outsource this to or delegate it to?
  • If I do that, what could I be doing instead?


Start 2020 by going back to first principles – what’s really important to you – and make sure your behaviour reflects that.

Work out what YOU need and ask other people to help you get it. Put yourself at the top of the pile for once. You know where I am if you want coaching on this.


About the Author

Zena Everett

Zena Everett is one of the UK’s leading careers experts, coaching and training professionals from a wide range of companies including Shire Pharmaceuticals, Bausch and Lomb, Gazprom, HSBC, Citigroup, the Institute of Chartered Accountants and several international law firms.

She is an Executive Coach on Oxford University’s global Executive MBA programme as well as the author of two books: MindFlip: Reinvent your Future, and Crazy Busy: How to Get More Done in a Day. Sign up to Zena’s mailing list at to get a free digital copy of Crazy Busy.

Mind Flip Zena Everett

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