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Know When Taking Charge is a Problem

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When was the last time you took charge of something at work? Maybe you had an idea about making an old process more efficient. Or, maybe, you volunteered to lead a new project. Take a moment and think about how you felt when you were proactive at work. Did you feel good or exhausted? Today, we talk about some new research that breaks down when taking charge may not be the best idea.

Taking Charge = Proactive Behavior

We’ve talked about proactive behavior before. Basically, it’s when an employee takes action to improve the work environment, situation, or themselves. We know it comes with a variety of benefits and challenges. While taking charge can be good for performance, career success, and even be invigorating at times, it also depletes your resources. Anything you do takes energy – your work, life chores, etc. So adding something to your plate when you take charge can do the same. You use additional resources and, thus, can face more exhaustion or burnout. Some recent research found that proactive behavior can actually increase your stress hormones.

Being proactive at work can sometimes be a great thing. But not always…

Why Motivation Matters

So if proactive behavior uses up your resources, what should you do? Good news is that taking charge isn’t always harmful. Your motivation matters. Specifically, autonomous motivation is key to avoiding the harms of proactive behavior. This type of motivation is all about doing something that you want to do – something that interests you, something you enjoy. When you take charge because you are interested in the work, you won’t face problematic energy drain.

But what about when you aren’t autonomously motivated? Recent research shows that a lack of this type of motivation can cause some serious problems. When employees did not enjoy the work they were taking charge of, they faced high levels of resource drain. That means that their energy levels were depleted by the end of the day. When they felt depleted, these employees also had a harder time detaching from work. They were more likely to think about their work at night and not fully disconnect. Finally, those employees that didn’t detach, felt less recovered the next day.

Make sure that what you are working for is aligned with what you are interested in!

What You Can Do

Based on this recent work, you should be very mindful of when you decide to take charge at work. Not every situation calls for you to be proactive. Don’t volunteer for work or projects that you aren’t interested in just because you think it’ll make you look good. When you don’t recover properly at night because your motivations are all wrong, you are more likely to hurt your performance than to shine the way you hoped. Further, if you have an idea for a project or some sort of process improvement, don’t feel like you have to be the one to do the work. If the work itself doesn’t interest you, share your ideas with your team members and allow others to take it and run with it. The more strategic you can be in how you choose when to take charge, the better. It’ll help you be a better performer and take care of your wellness!

Leaders, you need to support how your team takes charge. If someone is volunteering for every single thing, talk to them and make sure it is all interesting work for them. Make sure they aren’t just being ambitious or trying to do their best. Let them know it’s ok to not always take charge of everything. Same goes with new ideas. Just because someone comes up with an idea, don’t assume they want to follow through with it. Be mindful of who you assign the work to and try to match interests to special projects as much as possible. Let the team know that taking charge is great – but doing it smartly and thoughtfully is even better!

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