Are you an at-work people-pleaser? Here are the signs – and how to stop

Wanting to make people happy, do a good job, and avoid conflict… that all sounds great, right?

Well, not once it’s happening at the expense of your mental health.

People-pleasing tendencies often come from the best of intentions, and when you’re deep in this pattern, it can be hard to hear that being a people-pleaser isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

But the truth is that persistent people-pleasing isn’t good for us. It can leave us overwhelmed, burnt out, resenting those around us, and lacking a solid sense of self.

That’s true of people-pleasing in relationships, but perhaps even more so when it comes to work.

Signs you’re an at-work people-pleaser

Tracy Secombe is the author of From People Pleaser To Soul Pleaser and a coach who works to help people connect with who they’re really meant to be. She breaks down some common signs that you might be a people-pleaser in the workplace.

  • Your emotions are really up and down, because they’re so tied to how people react to what you say and do
  • You feel great about yourself when you receive praise, but have crashing lows when you receive negative feedback or criticism
  • You overthink every interaction, worrying that you might have upset or offended someone
  • You constantly worry about whether your work is good enough
  • You keep saying ‘yes’ to more work, even if you’re completely overloaded
  • You pride yourself on being known as someone who will always get stuff done
  • You take things super personally
  • You’re a chameleon, shape-shifting to be whatever different people at work need you to be in that moment
  • You struggle to say what you really think or feel out of fear of conflict
  • You’re exhausted by having to maintain the appearance of being okay, of taking on everything, and of making everyone happy

How people-pleasing at work can be harmful

The signs above paint a pretty damning picture – who wants to be overworked and exhausted?

But just to really hammer home how damaging being a people-pleaser can be, let’s hear from Tracy.

‘The people-pleasing roller coaster of emotions can leave you feeling drained of energy,’ Tracy tells ‘This can impede your concentration or even sleep patterns.

‘People-pleasing becomes a problem when you need another person to be pleased by what you do or say. That is, you can only feel good if they are pleased by your actions.

‘This is an impossible goal because we can’t control how another person feels because their emotions are caused by their perception of what’s happening – which is unique to them based on their past experiences and how they were feeling before you even entered the room.

‘The negative effects of feeling responsible for other people’s emotions are the toll it has on your own thoughts and feelings. People-pleasing can also drive you to overwork and have trouble switching off from thinking about work.

‘This constant stress can impact your relationships at home and your physical wellbeing.’

The work benefits of ditching people-pleasing

Those who aren’t people-pleasers will scoff at this, but when you’re stuck in the people-pleasing mindset, it’s hard to see the obvious benefits of ditching the habit – because you’re far too worried about people being upset or angry that you’re taking charge.

The personal benefits of ditching people-pleasing are immense: your stress levels can drop (which in turn benefits your physical and mental health), you’ll get off the emotional roller coaster, you’ll feel more confident in who you are and what you want, and you won’t place so much stock in your work performance. Basically, you’ll start to realise that you’re a whole person, not just what other people at work think of you or your professional stats.

But perhaps you’re worried that ditching people-pleasing – or quiet quitting – will harm your work.

When you’re so used to prioritising work and other people’s feelings over your own wellbeing, the idea of swapping around the rankings can feel scary, prompting visions of getting sacked or having everyone think you’re rubbish at your job.

That’s not the reality. In fact, says Tracy, ditching people-pleasing can open up your work-related opportunities and make you better at your job.

She explains: ‘Great leaders know themselves and what they believe in and have the confidence to share it with others without having to be “right”. They are equally respectful of other people’s opinions.

‘By developing the ability to express what you think about a topic, rather than going along with the crowd, you will demonstrate your initiative and leadership skills.

‘Having empathy for other people is a strength of the people-pleaser if we can avoid feeling everyone else’s emotions, which allows you to communicate well with all team members, creating a great work culture.

‘Being comfortable in your own skin, saying what you mean, and respecting what other people think will place you on the radar for that next promotion.

‘You will also have better clarity about the career path that you would really enjoy, rather than what you think you should do next.’

How to unlearn the people-pleasing habit

Okay, so how can we ditch the people-pleasing act?

Consciously notice when you’re people-pleasing

‘The first step to unlearning a habit is to become aware of it,’ says Tracy. ‘When you notice yourself people-pleasing, don’t beat yourself up about it, just acknowledge it and reflect on how you could have responded to the situation differently.’

Tackle the root cause of people-pleasing

Tracy tells us: ‘The second step is to become aware of the root cause of the people-pleasing habit, which is needing validation from others to feel good about yourself.

‘The long-term change to your automatic responses will come from creating a new belief about yourself. The goal is for you to feel good about yourself all the time, no matter how someone responds to you or if you make a mistake.’

It’s well worth investing in therapy to explore this more deeply.

Where does the belief that you have to exhaust yourself in order to be ‘good’ come from? How can you start to untangle that? A professional will be able to guide you through this process.

Reframe mistakes as lessons

People-pleasers have a real tendency to beat themselves up for the tiniest of errors. You’ll need to quit that negative self-talk.

‘Embrace the opportunity to learn when something doesn’t work out the way you wanted it to, rather than concluding that you are not good enough,’ says Tracy. ‘Celebrate your wins and your strengths and accept the parts of you that you tend to judge.’

Work your way up

Ditching people-pleasing can feel a bit uncomfortable. Rather than jumping right in the deep end, start small and build up to tackling the bigger acts of people-pleasing.

That might mean saying ‘no’ to some requests, or pausing when asked for your opinion and challenging yourself to say what you really feel, rather than what someone wants to hear.

It might feel helpful to tell people that you’re trying to ditch the people-pleasing habit, so they understand changes in the way you do things.

‘It is normal to feel uncomfortable when you begin to act in a new way,’ says Tracy. ‘Start where it is easiest and gradually approach the more challenging situations as you feel more confident.

‘Have empathy for the people who are accustomed to your people-pleasing and share with them that you are doing some personal development and starting to change some ingrained habits.

‘People will react to you based on how you feel about what you are saying – if you feel confident, they will be more likely to accept your new behaviour.’

Tracy Secombe is a coach who specialises in helping people shift from people-pleasers to Soul Pleasers, and the author of From People Please To Soul Pleaser.

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