The Leadership Coach & People Person, Nicola Pye, explains why as leaders we need to be worried about the ‘overperformers’. The people who are always first to the finish line, not happy with 100% they’re striving for 150%. Find out more and read the top three signs that you have overperformance in your team: 

Productivity is in sharp focus right now, market conditions and the cost of everything crisis add to an already complex and volatile operating environment. Just to survive, we need people (and tech) to deliver more for us. It’s no surprise then that a lot of leaders are very worried about the quiet quitters and underperformers.

I’m not going to say these aren’t issues for your business performance or staff retention.  However, they are not your only problem right now. As leaders,  we need to be worried about the ‘overperformers’. These are the people who are always first to the finish line, not happy with 100% they’re striving for 150%.

Research published this month says there’s a darker side to performance-driven cultures, they are causing stress and burnout. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) suggest that, each year, three-quarters of a million people are dying from coronary heart disease and stroke, due to working long hours.

In the past I’ve made sacrifices with my health. I lived to work and was prepared to write-off  every weekend to recharge just so that I could repeat again the following week. I count myself as fortunate though, I had autonomy and a cheerleading squad (my team and boss) who took me off the pitch and made me focus on my health.

Someone I worked with received some really unhelpful advice about being a working mum, which made her feel like she had to be grateful for her flexible part-time working hours and still deliver to the same level as a full-time person. If she couldn’t (because, you know, she had a family life to manage) you could see panic set in, profuse apologies would follow and she ended up being signed off with stress. Study findings vary but a quick sweep tells me that we are not alone. It could be up to 80% of the UK workforce who have experienced burnout.

I’m sure if I said to Elon Musk (not that our paths cross that often) that we need to worry about the overperformers, he’d wholeheartedly agree, saying something like: Hell yeah, how can we clone these people? Assuming that this is all about making the hustle culture even more hustley! Even for those of us that don’t aspire to be more Elon it’s tempting to allow the overperformance to continue, be celebrated even, after all these people are always willing to go the extra mile.

What is this boom or bust cycle of performance saying about our leadership and our culture? By championing overperformance are we saying that this is the definition of success? Sorry, you are great and all that but you can’t be successful unless you achieve 150% and are willing to sacrifice your personal life, your health.

Here are my top three signs that you have overperformance in your team:

  1. Invisible sacrifices – finding out after the event that one of your team has cancelled personal plans, worked through being unwell or given up a Sunday just to make the following week easier. People will resent you for making these sacrifices, even though you didn’t ask them to.

  2. Hyper responsiveness – you send an email and get an almost immediate response, you ask for something to be done next week, it’s done tomorrow. Look out for early morning email checkers – these people are prioritising their responsiveness over their sleep or ablutions.

  3. Good enough is never good enough – they are working on a document which you were happy with two or three versions ago, or instead of a quick email you get a 20 slide PowerPoint. These people can struggle with feedback, they want it but it cuts deep because they cannot bear to be thought of as anything less than perfect.

None of this is an overperformer’s fault, they have been conditioned (maybe way before you became their leader) to think this is what great looks like. They could be thinking this is the only way to achieve their aspirations, or are fearful of the consequences of not showing up in this way – being sidelined or made redundant.

It’s tempting to overlook the overperformance, they are doing a great job, and as the saying goes “if you want something done then ask a busy person”. That might get you, your business and that person short-term gain. However, burnout has massive consequences.

If you have overperformance in your team, remember this is where what you say and what you DO really matter. So first off – have the conversation, share what you are noticing and ask what’s happening for them. Here’s some questions that you could ask yourself:

  • Are you being a good role-model?

  • Are you celebrating performers or overperformers?

  • Is it safe to set and stick to boundaries in your team?

  • Are you giving out badges of honour for taking care of yourself and others?

In this 24/7 ever-on world where the hustle and grind is seen as the sure fire way to succeed it’s no wonder that we have an over performance culture. Yet this has real risks for your business – stress, burnout and serious health issues are the side effects to not being able to say no.  Dialling down overperformance (and that includes you if you recognise those signs above) will mean you are still getting great results but won’t literally be writing cheques with your team’s health.

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