Have you heard the truism, 'If you want something done, ask a busy person?' The idea is people are usually busy because they're dependable. But have you ever thought what this bit of wisdom looks like from the perspective of the busy person?
That's the topic of a fascinating recent post on New York Magazine's Science of Us blog. The darkly humorous piece by the always insightful Melissa Dahl digs into recent research into the ironic (and, from the employee's perspective, unfair) advice that the colleague with the most packed schedule, is still the surest bet to complete extra work. The conclusion: sometimes it really stinks to be considerate and trustworthy.
Three studies, one conclusion
Dahl examines a trio of studies into why it can sometimes be a bummer to be your team's most reliable contributor. One found, for instance, that those with high self-control (i.e. those that are best at doing what they say they will) are often the subject of higher expectations from colleagues. And not only are they expected to clear a higher bar, another study showed that they also tend to be assigned an unfairly large portion of shared work.
Finally, a third study came to what might be the most depressing conclusion of all for the extremely trustworthy -- they don't even get full credit for how much they do. "Observers seem to think that go-getters exert less effort than slackers, even when they're working on the same task, and even though they themselves rated the assignment as equally difficult. They make it look easy, in other words," explains Dahl.
How to stop being the office workhorse
Well, that's annoying for the highly motivated. What's the takeaway? The simplest one might just be affirmation that if you feel like you're working harder and better than everyone else and not getting the appreciation you deserve, the problem probably isn't in your mind. Being really good doesn't cause others to stand up and applaud. It causes others to take us for granted and shovel more work our way -- science says so.
But before you work up some serious self-righteousness, Dahl also points out that the behavior of the office workhorse often doesn't help matters. One Dutch study suggests that the super dependable often compensate for slacker co-workers, taking on more than their fair share of work when they collaborate. If you're starting to feel that your put togetherness is being taken advantage of, maybe it's time to stop quietly making up for your colleagues comparative lack of responsibility.
Instead, the psychologist behind this last bit of research suggests you toot your own horn a little bit more and make an effort to clearly divvy up responsibilities and workload before you start any joint projects (also, chilling out about how others work can sometimes lighten your load).
Are you highly dependable?
If you're unsure if you're the type of super responsible employee all these studies are talking about, Dahl's post offers a short quiz to help you find out. Head over to Science of Us to take it if you're curious.
Have you observed this phenomenon in real life?