The Pros and Cons of Going Above and Beyond at Work
If you’re anything like me, you might have always been a very driven and proactive person who is always looking for ways to make things better and get things done more efficiently. Unfortunately, this ambition and drive can often backfire in a traditional work setting. Deciding when it’s appropriate to go the extra mile at work or just stick to the requirements of your job is difficult. Despite that, it’s a skill that once mastered will benefit you tremendously in your career.
Should you do more than is asked?
In many ways, this post can have various titles… “Should I be an overachiever at work?” or “Is it good to put in more hours than anyone else?” When is it appropriate to go above and beyond at work, or simply best to just stick to the core requirements?
I personally had this dilemma in many positions I’ve worked. Perhaps your boss wants you to find out the average sales of a certain product but asks you to get that average by only looking at last week’s sales. I would think, wouldn’t it make more sense to give you the average sales over a much longer period of time? I would likely end up providing my boss with average sales for the week, but additional information as well such as average sales for the month, the quarter, and even the year!
Another example could be that your boss asks you to clean up a specific storage area, but then you notice the adjacent storage area is pretty messy as well and it really won’t take you long to clean that one up too! I would think to myself, “Look at me go! All forward thinking and what not. My boss will really appreciate how helpful I am.” Plus, I always felt this additional work was just going to come down the road anyway at some point so why not just do it now preemptively? It will save time for everyone and mhmm, maybe my boss will be impressed I’m so proactive and thoughtful.
After years of always giving or doing a little more than was asked for, I learned the hard way that most of the time it just ended up being a waste of my time. Sometimes I even got reprimanded by my bosses because I gave them more than they wanted, or there were unintended negative consequences of doing the extra work.
The number of times I was actually praised for taking the initiative to analyze a situation, take charge, and do what I thought made sense were so rare that I can count them on one hand. Even for those few positive experiences I did have, the benefit often resulted in nothing more than a pat on the back, and there were not nearly enough of them to offset the several bad experiences and the countless neutral, aka I wasted my time, ones.
This might seem surprising to some of you, especially since I think it sounds reasonable that showing some initiative and always trying your best to help would be desirable, but I have four reasons why these good intentions often backfire:
4 Reasons Going Above and Beyond at Work can Backfire!
1. Your boss has a very specific and particular reason they asked you to do something in a certain way.
This is true more often than not! Perhaps that request for the average sales numbers from only last week was because management just rolled out a new modification to the product last week. That request to clean only that one storage room was because the company had a contract with professional cleaners to clean the others and the money was already spent.
Perhaps they wanted you to do the extra task at a later time, or they wanted someone else to do it, or they didn’t think it needed to be done at all and you could have worked on something more important. There could be any number of reasons they asked you to do something in a certain way.
Obviously, communication issues need to be talked about here and trust me, it’s going to be discussed in a bit. The point is that even though a boss’s request may seem strange to you, it’s often perfectly valid when given the context they framed it in.
2. You’re successful when you do what your boss wants, and usually not when you don’t do what they want.
Think about this for a second. Your boss makes a request. You do it exactly verbatim. In only the most dysfunctional and extreme of cases would this somehow reflect poorly on you. In every other case, you’re giving your boss exactly what they want and they have no reason but to be happy you got it done for them. Your boss got what they wanted, they are pleased, you are seen as a good worker. It’s a win for you all around.
Sure, you don’t get to demonstrate your potential as much as you would like, but it absolutely keeps you in good standings with the people who can promote you, recommend you, and ultimately excel your career down the road. Your boss is your boss whether you see eye to eye with them or not, and for better or worse you need to do what they ask of you, nothing more, nothing less.
Of course, this will vary from company to company, but is taking the chance to overachieve in slim hopes of a promotion worth the risk of potentially annoying your boss and co-workers and then living with the fallout that could occur from that? Maybe, maybe not, that is your decision to make. But as I always say, when in doubt, take the safest path possible and that path is just doing what is asked!
3. You’re seen as the rogue employee who doesn’t communicate.
This one is key. It’s all about communication. The truth of the matter is that this quality of wanting to do more and overachieve is actually not inherently bad, but your intentions should be communicated to your boss. This will clear up any miscommunication or get their blessing to go ahead and do it.
Simply ask, “Hey boss, do you want me to do this too?”, or “Hey, you only asked for this, but would you maybe like that too?” Sometimes the original requests from your boss can be vague or misinformed. Communicating with them opens up the opportunity to clear up any misconceptions and get clarification on a task which helps get everyone on the same page.
In communicating, you show your good intentions and initiative, you gain the respect of those above you, and you clear up any miscommunication that could have occurred. However, if you just start doing things on your own, no matter how good your intentions, you tend to get seen as a loose cannon, unpredictable, maybe even as insubordinate! Take the time to open up a conversation first, then you’ll usually see the best path to take.
4. You raise the bar of expectations but don’t get compensated accordingly.
A potential adverse side effect of going above and beyond is that you raise the expectations for what should be done in your current role without ever being rewarded or compensated accordingly for doing those extra responsibilities! This happens far too often to unsuspecting individuals and it turns into a major source of bitterness down the road for these once good intentioned workers.
Most commonly, a diligent go-getter starts taking on extra responsibilities and pitching in on tasks outside of their role, often in search of a promotion or pay raise. The boss loves it, verbal praise is given from all around, but… nothing else happens. No promotion. No pay raise. No extra consideration for advancement at all, really.
In fact, management might be so happy you’re doing so much extra work in your current role, they may very well not ever want to promote you out of it! You’re making yourself a star performer who is nearly impossible to replace, and you did it all for a fraction of the salary they would need to pay someone else.
In all seriousness, if you’re taking on responsibilities above your pay grade without ensuring you’ll somehow be compensated, you may very well just be increasing your workload for no real reward. The worst part is that you’ve now raised the bar of expectation and it can be near impossible to return to what your role normally required without being seen as an underperformer. You can find promotion and advancement well enough by doing what the job expects of you to your best ability, but trying to go beyond that? Not necessary!
So coming back to the top… Should you overachieve or not? Generally no.
Of course, this ultimately comes down to the work culture of your company and the management you work for, and in some companies, employees are truly rewarded for taking initiative and going the extra mile. For example, in a start-up company, it’s almost expected that you wear many hats and perform as many roles as possible. Everyone is giving 110%! And if you’re an Entrepreneur, then you’ll most certainly want to give it your all!
But in most other work settings, especially working for someone else, doing more than is asked for can often do more harm than good or simply be a waste of your time with no real reward. Time is such a limited and precious asset and spending extra time and effort at work when there is no tangible benefit may not be worth the investment!
That being said, don’t take this to mean you should always do the bare minimum either! Completed your job requirements to the best of your abilities. Also keep your good intentions, your initiative, and your helpfulness, but utilize these in the proper manner with good communication. Express your interest, ideas, and energy to your boss, but don’t go rogue and start doing things on your own. Let your boss know that you’re thinking outside the box and that they could maybe use more done than they asked for, but get their blessing first. Talk to your boss, let them know your ideas, and go from there.
Many times they will say, “Wow, that is a good idea, go ahead and do that too, it will be a big help!”. But if they say don’t do it, then simply don’t do it. You put your best foot forward and you look all the better for it.
Mr. Happy Work