Industry Market Trends

When You're Too Good at Your Job

Apr 27, 2010

Although most of us strive to perform well at work, sometimes being too good at your job can actually hurt your career. When you're over-performing, striking a balance between job performance and promotion prospects is the key to professional advancement.

Performing well usually seems like the best route to impressing coworkers or managers and eventually moving up within a company. But in some cases, an excellent employee may be too good, reducing the chances of a promotion, a raise or even some of the perks that less-committed workers enjoy. While this doesn't mean good workers should start slacking on the job, it does highlight the need for strategies that allow workers to do what they do best without suffering for it.

A common problem among those who excel at their jobs is that they start to seem indispensable to their bosses or the company management, making it more difficult for them to obtain a promotion because it appears as if no one else would be able to fill their role.

"You are too good at your job. This, unfortunately, happens. Managers can't figure out how they could possibly function without their star employees and hold them back. They aren't trying to undermine their careers; they are trying to make their own careers successful," career consulting blog Evil HR Lady explains.

When the business depends on the work you do in your current role, an effective way to overcome the obstacle of being "too good to promote" is to take control of the situation. Position yourself as someone who could more greatly benefit the company further up the chain of command. If a manager or supervisor insists that the business would suffer from moving you into a new position, it may be that the task of finding and training a replacement seems too difficult to tackle.

In these circumstances, "tell him you'd like his help developing a plan to prepare someone to take your place," BNET's professional development blog Personal Success advises. "Since he's not willing to do his own succession planning, you need to do it for him. Don't let him put you off. If he says, 'Oh, you're not ready for that level of job,' ask him what you need to do to be ready for it."

Being irreplaceable presents certain challenges, but playing a crucial role within the organization does not necessarily mean a higher position is right for you. A person who excels in a position may feel that, after enough time, this qualifies them for a promotion. However, moving a skilled employee up the ranks is not always the ideal trajectory for the organization as a whole.

"Many people are surprised that being good at a job doesn't automatically make you good at being the boss. They are entirely different skill sets," Evil HR Lady explains. "If you look at senior leadership outside hires, they sometimes come from different industries altogether. This is because the skills needed to manage aren't those needed to make the product."

Apart from potential promotion problems, being too good at your job can also make it more difficult for you to realize when you've made a mistake. People who are accustomed to excelling at their work may be surprised or feel unprepared when something goes wrong and, in some instances, they may overlook areas of concern.

"Being too good at your job can damage your vision. What I mean is that when you are too closely involved, it can become easy to miss something that is right under your nose," social media marketing consultant Mark Murnahan writes. "It is easy to just think we are so good at something that we know how long we can put a task off before things break. It can also be easy to think we are doing all the right things, while we are actually just making things worse."

Workers who strive to excel but have difficulty acknowledging or dealing with their own mistakes may be suffering from perfectionism, which can lead to overwork, stress and degrade job performance in the long-term.

"Counter-intuitive as it may seem, some research also suggests that in people who are too hard on themselves, perfectionism may actually hinder performance in school and sports, and on the job," the Boston Globe reports.

Stress expert Elizabeth Scott offers the following tips for dealing with perfectionist tendencies at About.com's Guide to Stress Management:

  • Make a cost-benefit analysis. Weigh the benefits of performing every task to perfection against the time and mental cost of doing so. This may show you it is not always the best idea to do things perfectly.
  • Notice your tendencies. Keep track of the amount of effort you put into your duties, as well as the thoughts that occur when you consider the possibility of failure or imperfection.
  • Look for positives. Excelling at your job means you are probably good at spotting others' mistakes, but instead of looking for errors, try to focus on the strengths in your own and other people's work.
  • Change what you say. Perfectionists often have a voice inside their heads criticizing their efforts. Try to make your own self-judgments more appreciative of your work.
  • Take smaller steps. Instead of setting unreasonable goals and standards of excellence, shoot for smaller, more manageable goals in your day-to-day work habits.
  • Enjoy the process. Shift your focus away from results and onto the process involved in reaching a goal.
  • Take criticism in stride. Accepting constructive criticism instead of becoming defensive is an important way to learn from your mistakes and understand that they can be a useful part of your career.

If you are great at your job and feel you deserve to move up, being persistent and understanding your manager's reluctance to move you from your position can be an effective way to overcome the problem of being too good. On the other hand, being so good that it becomes detrimental to the quality of your professional life is a sign that perfectionism may be holding you back. Learn to be less hard on yourself and you may brighten your career prospects for the future.

Resources

The Hazards of Being Dependable

Evil HR Lady, Oct. 15, 2009

I'm Too Good at My Job

by Suzanne Lucas

Personal Success (BNET), April 12, 2010

Are You Too Good at Your Job?

by Mark Murnahan

Mark Aaron Murnahan, Web Guy, March 26, 2010

When Perfectionism Becomes a Problem

by Carey Goldberg

The Boston Globe, March 2, 2009

Overcoming Perfectionism: How to Develop a Healthier Outlook

by Elizabeth Scott

About.com: Stress Management, Nov. 8, 2007