Do People Pleasers Make the Best Employees?

By Jennifer A. Williams August 29, 2017

A couple of years ago, I lectured to a group of business owners on employee engagement. A gentleman gave lavish praise for one employee in particular. In the same breath, he also lamented how difficult it would be to find a replacement to fill her shoes. The business owner had many reasons for his fondness: "She stayed late whenever asked to get projects done and with amazing accuracy." "She always volunteered to go the extra mile!" "She was super productive!" "She was the first to come to work and the last to leave." "And the best part, she was very popular in the office because she went out of her way to help her co-workers, too."

A businesswoman doing inventory in a warehouseAnd then I mentioned that people pleasers were the best employees until they weren't. I asked if the employee mentioned above had quit without notice. He showed surprise and retorted, "How did you know?!" It turns out that the company had depended on her way too much! She quit without notice leaving everyone, including the CEO, in a truckload of trouble. Everyone was scrambling—working overtime for two weeks to cover the position and meet orders that she had left undone.

Welcome to the world of people pleasers.

They love pleasing others, so generally, they have high-performance reviews. Pleasers give and give and give, and when they're overloaded, they take on five more things. Yet, the disadvantage of a pleaser is that they build resentment. They put on a smile and take on one more feat until they feel unappreciated and undervalued. Then they react. Sometimes they will sabotage a co-worker by withholding needed information. Or talk trash to a client about the company. Other times, they can't hold their anger and explode on someone. Or they quit at an inopportune time. 

Every time someone takes them for granted, they get aggravated. Whenever they are unappreciated for their sacrifice and unwavering dedication, resentment rises. As Geoffrey James states in his Inc. article, "People pleasers take actions they believe you should appreciate, regardless of whether you have asked for those actions or not."
 
Newlywed-couple-in-insurance-office,-making-insurance-claim-684144790_2122x1416.jpegPleasers watch their co-workers leave on time each day while they stay late. They scoff at those who are laughing with one another when they're trying to focus. Pleasers resent the guy who comes to work feeling great after a workout at the gym. A pleaser's fuse can be lit when they get passed over for a promotion. And one of their biggest gripes? They despise how hard they work (even though secretly it makes them feel valued). Underneath their smile, they fume. "If others would manage their time and organize their projects, my work would be a heck of lot easier!"
 

The Unrealistic Expectations Created by People Pleasers

 The big question: "Why DO we take people pleasers for granted?" We love big givers. We relish people who work super hard and are attentive to our needs. And often there is more work than can go around, so it lightens our load.
 
Employee engagem in conversation at workDon't get me wrong. Focus and hard work are crucial and necessary. When we do focused work, the results can be spectacular. Yet, hard work requires downtime and rejuvenation to stay balanced. As Forbes states: "...find the appropriate time/energy input so that you're achieving not only what is good for the company, but what is in your own best interest as well."
 
We are covertly spoiled by the unrealistic and unspoken expectations we begin to have of pleasers. We start assuming that the pleaser will stay late, so we postpone or get a little sloppy in our preparation. We take an extended lunch break because we can count on that pleaser to pick up the slack. Pleasers train other employees to lean on them. This dynamic can weaken the productivity and creativity of our best people.
 
Most leaders detect people pleasers' unspoken agendas, but sometimes not until too late. They're even shocked at times by where pleasers put their time and energy. A pleaser will spend two hours organizing a supply cabinet. The clincher? Your #1 priority sits untouched! And they expect an award for it!
 

Why Pleasing Too Much Can Be Unhealthy

Tired and overwhelmed business woman resting her head on her deskThere's another problem that backfires, too. Pleasers are lousy
at at taking care of themselves. They take on more and more until they deplete themselves and are too exhausted or angry to continue the ruse. The more energetic and ambitious a person, the longer they can sustain this pattern. It is unhealthy for people to exhaust themselves by taking
on way more than their fair share. Building up indebtedness and keeping score, like pleasers often do, is unproductive and festers resentment. 

The Harvard Review has this to say about people who may be a little too eager to volunteer or say yes haphazardly.

"If you’re an energetic, service-oriented person, your tendency is to always respond to any request by saying, 'Sure, I can do that.' Or when you’re sitting in a meeting and someone asks for volunteers to help, you always raise your hand. Or even when no one asks for help—but you know they need it—you offer to assist. In and of itself, a strong desire to take action isn’t bad. But if this attitude means that you’re completely overloaded with work and unfocused on your top priorities, you are failing to keep the commitments that truly should fall under your ownership."

Healthy self-care for each individual in a company makes a stronger team and company.

Why is self-care important? Let me ask you something. When you haven't taken care of yourself, how do you show up at work? (You've worked through lunch, neglected exercise, and missed your kid's basketball game.) Are you as productive? As creative? As kind? It's not pretty, is it? 
 
When giving from a place of pleasing others more than taking care of ourselves,
we give from an unsustainable place. Ignoring self-care robs us of our finest work and creativity. There will be lapses in judgment, increased mistakes, and we'll get grumpier along the way. How does this behavior serve anyone well, including the employer or company? It doesn't. Taking care of ourselves is paramount for doing our best work.
 
So if a person is unable to say no even when exhausted, can we expect them to say no when they're well rested and eager to please? Will they be able to say no when they have higher priorities or pressing needs? Nope.
 
And if a person cannot be honest about their priorities, their mixed messages limit the ability for anyone to trust them in a significant and authentic way. Are you starting to see the effects of the pleaser-virus spreading through a workplace?
 
Shaking hands in agreementIn healthy and mature relation-ships, we please others most when we are true to ourselves. Only then can we contribute and fulfill our role to our highest capacity. We can't impact with greatness unless we honor ourselves, take ownership for our own work, and make self-care a foundation for an excellence of service.

How to Identify People Pleasers

They don't know the meaning of delegation. Many times people pleasers don't know how to ask for help. They assume it's their job in work relationships to do the lion's share. To establish high trust, they do too much and are dependable to a fault (until they're not). Others liking them or feeling needed fuels their compliance. To feel needed means accepting work they don't have time for. Even though exhausted, pleasers pile on more. In the eyes of the one who is doing too much, their efforts demonstrate, yet again, their trustworthiness. And since they work hard, they prove their dedication as well. Being needed helps them feel valuable, which hides the insecurity within.
 
They set indirect boundaries. Pleasers generally do not know how to say no. They are afraid to set boundaries for fear of being disliked, shunned or rejected. They evade disappointing anyone and avoid conflict, even minor. Thus, they will often set indirect boundaries such as calling in sick after a big push. Since most people can relate to getting sick, it doesn't reflect on their work ethic.
 
Other indirect boundaries include:
1)  showing up late for work or meetings
2)  working on pet projects instead of priorities
3)  saying yes but meaning no and then forgetting
4)  procrastinating
5)  acting overwhelmed
 
A favorite way for a pleaser to say no (without saying no) is by acting overwhelmed. Think about it. You walk up to assign a task and the person has their head in their hands distressed. Most likely, you'll move on and give the task to someone else to avoid the hassle.
 
A business meeting measuring the latest statisticsThey make managers feel bad about their interpersonal skills. It's common for managers to express their misgivings about working with pleasers. Those who are managing employees feel like they get it wrong continually: "I need to make my requests clearer" or "I think I'm too tough on..." or "Wow, they worked so hard, I didn't have the heart to tell them it wasn't the priority." or "I feel guilty, but she always says she doesn't mind staying late." Pleasers are masters at making others feel guilty.
 
They work through lunch frequently. An uneaten salad at their desk is a medal of honor for a pleaser working hard. A sandwich that a co-worker brought them still sits with only a few bites at the end of the day. Yep, they're hard workers; everyone will agree.
 
They agree with you face-to-face, then criticize and disagree when talking with others. It is too much of a threat for a people pleaser to state their opinion up front but saying their displeasure to others lowers the risk. And comments made to
a third party don't usually get discovered. Why? Pleasers tend to talk to safe and nurturing people.
When pleasers confide in sympathetic listeners, the conversation equates as a badge of trustworthiness for the confidante. Thus, the conversation is kept in a vault until the co-worker get overburdened and unloads. However, even then, it's likely that the unloading won't be directed to the right person who can make a positive difference. 

So Should You Hire Pleasers?

At first glance, it might appear that leaders shouldn't hire people pleasers. Yet, we're all human, and we all have our unique foibles and growth areas. Those who seek to please can be outstanding and very loyal employees. This personality type also has very high standards. In their quest for proving themselves worthy, their skill levels become formidable in their field. However, they need support, firm kindness, and redirection by effective leadership.
 
CEO speaking with an employee with sincere interestPleasers are sensitive and only open up when they feel safe, so they act as a barometer of safety in every company. Pleasers can help to keep a company culture healthy. So let's look at how to
spot a people pleaser so we can redirect our own or each other for better results on the job. 

To move people pleasers to champions of an organization, we'll need to do three things faithfully.
1)  hold them accountable to be honest, first with themselves and then with others
2)  help them readjust their over giving to a more equitable balance
3)  empower them with constructive ways to be a team player. 
 

Leadership Remedies for Employees, Especially Pleasers

Encourage them to say no. People pleasers do not know it's okay to say no, let alone how to say no. They often need encouragement to flex those new muscles. But, they are loyal to those who have their back. Pleasers feel validated when a leader doesn't take advantage of their willingness to take on too much, even though the leader could.
 
Pay attention to subtle cues and body language that doesn't match their cheerfulness. For instance, they're shaking their head no even as they're saying yes. When you notice a discrepancy, point it out and make sure that your employee agrees. This simple act (takes two minutes tops) helps the recipient feel seen and valued.
 
Make sure to consider their other priorities before assigning new work. When you're delegating a project, ask what their current priorities are. Check in to see if the added work will delay and cause problems with their other deadlines and projects. This action shows you care and are thinking of them. The goal is to train all your employees to give you relevant facts without having to request it. Leaders are then better equipped to make higher quality decisions with complete information.
 
Photo-of-a-senior-carpenter-and-apprentice-at-work-180827934_2182x1376.jpegAcknowledge and reward their service. When your employee has put in long hours or gone the extra mile, reward them. A gesture can be sending them home a little early, a handwritten card of appreciation or a gift card. Don't overdo it, but scatter these validations throughout the months and employee retention will go up.
 
Help your employees who overwork and over-commit to understand that doing their best work means taking care of themselves.
Self-care doesn't come
easily for pleasers. Pleasers often need encouragement, reassurance, and suggestions. (I get it, it's not your job, right?) Yes, I hear from leaders often that people should already know how to do their job without babysitting them. Personal drama is a time-waster. Understood. Our expectation
is for employees to come to work and do
just that—work. After all, they're adults.
But it's also vital to accept what is staring us in the face. Employees are also people and those who exhaust themselves lay traps for others and cause trouble down
the road
.

Sometimes adults come with a few bad habits. It's true that a leader need not get
in the middle of drama and it's important to set firm boundaries for inappropriate behavior. However, the leader's role IS to ensure the health of the team, the quality of the work, and the success of their company. With that in mind, a leader showing that they care as much for the employee as the success of the work IS part of your job description. Like it or not,
you're growing people, not just profit.

Examples of how to support employees

Employee eating lunch and working at her computerHabit patterns have blind spots. Those seeking to please may be unaware of their misguided behavior. For instance, they feel pressure (even if imagined) so they eat lunch at their desk. [Prod them to stop working and take a break. Encourage them to go out to lunch with the team.]
 
They don't use the gym that the company provides because they feel they should always be working. [Set team fitness goals and track the total number of miles a team walks each month. This ritual engages everyone and encourages more involvement.]
 
The employee stays late even after completing a lengthy and critical project. [Insist they go home.] 

An employee calls in sick after an intense production cycle or big initiative. [Take note. Make a point to discuss with him or her when convenient. Reinforce how important it is to take better care of themselves—not worse—in the midst of a heavy workload. Suggest setting more reasonable timelines.]
 
You notice an employee looks taxed and fatigued. [Mirror back what you see and ask the employee to take a long lunch break. Or surprise them with a short work day so they can attend their child's soccer game or dance recital.]

Leader holding the vision for her companyWhether you hire a people pleaser is up to you and your company. Don't underestimate the power and influence of authentic leadership, especially with pleasers. Set clear goals and measurement for your employees and promote a culture of honest communication and trust.

When your company makes its work environment safe for pleasers to be true to themselves, you've created a culture of honesty, accountability, and caring.

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Posted in Leadership and Business