Growing up we’re encouraged to share, to help others and to look out for each other. It’s human nature to help someone else who is in distress, whether that’s caused by an accident on the street or by a looming work deadline.

On top of this “collaboration” continues to be a big workplace trend. The importance of collaboration is so widely recognised that workplaces are now being designed specifically to foster teamwork. We’re encouraged to work together, to build ideas and communicate consistently. To enable connectivity across the board companies are also investing in chat platforms such as Slack, so even if someone works in a different country you can still work together.

And yes, it’s nice to connect with your wider team and lend a hand, after all you’d probably like someone to do the same for you when your workload is spiralling, but can you be too much of a team player? If your calendar is always full of meetings and phone calls, you forget half of the things you've contributed to, no is a foreign word to you and you rarely get your To Do list done, you could be too helpful.  

Why being too much of a team player is bad

The bottom line is if you’re always helping other people it’s harder for you to focus on your own work. By proxy, this means the quality of your work suffers.

When multitasking, which you will be if you’re a team player or over achiever, you’re damaging your brain. Some reports go as far as to say continuous multitasking can lower your IQ. Our brains work best when they have a single focus, so when you overload your brain with numerous tasks your productivity can be reduced by up to 40% – that’s almost half!

As a result, your work will take you longer and you’ll make your brain tired in the meantime. Furthermore, you’ll get stuck in a loop of poor concentration and poor productivity. In summary do yourself a favour, start learning to say no and create some balance in your day to day workload.

How to know when to draw the line

No one wants to be labelled a bad team player, so how do you know when to draw the line but still remain helpful? Being a team player is a broad term and can extend to face to face support, email support, support via phone & IM, once off support and continuous support outside of your own role. The key word here is support.

A team player should give assistance and backup but not take on complete workloads of their team. If most of your day is taken up with other people’s work, then this could be the case and it’s time to draw the line. On the flipside, a good team player will know when to let go of control and ask for some help from their colleagues.

Ways to balance your work life

Saying no is difficult, especially if you’re already the go to for helping out or find it hard to let go of control. It takes practice and a shift in mindset but there are ways to make saying no easier.

If you feel torn between offering help, or sticking to your own workload, this method can be helpful: create a top priority to do list and try to limit it to 2/3 things. These are your must do items of the day and other people’s requests shouldn’t get in the way of them. (Obviously exceptions always exist.)

If you have something that really must get done turning off email notifications is a helpful way to avoid distractions and the temptation to slip into multitasking. Speaking of email, picking up the phone is another good way to say no in a nice way. On the phone or in person, rather than via email or online chat, your colleague can sense your tone and you can eloquently explain that you’d love to help but that you have x,y,z that you need to get done first.

Frank from our Office Support team wrote a blog recently with some other helpful tips on how he manages his very varied workload and avoids burnout.

Striking the balance between getting your own work done and being a good team player is something you should prioritise, as it doesn't seem the trend for collaboration is going anywhere anytime soon. Practice prioritisation and remain mindful of your workload to ensure being too much a team player doesn’t hinder your career.

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