Okay, so you’ve probably never heard of ‘hyper-availablism’ but bear with me … perhaps you suffer from it yourself or know someone who does.
It shows up as being hyper-available to people in person, by phone, by email and on social media. It involves a lot of Yes’s and very few, if any, No’s. It tends to feature a very strong urge to please or sense of being needed, tiredness and often, eventually, great frustration, resentment or exhaustion.
- Saying Yes to virtually everything without checking in with Self first to see what actually fits ones own needs too or what’s actually doable.
- Saying you can’t do something for someone (usually for very good reason) and then doing it anyway, often at great inconvenience to yourself (and possibly others).
- Stating boundaries around your availability, office hours, etc and then breaking them yourself by answering the phone or being available after hours – as a rule rather than as an occasional exception.
- Over-promising and under-delivering because even though you totally want to over-deliver, you’ve over-committed yourself and it’s just not possible.
- Feeling harassed and hassled.
- Feeling resentful and under-appreciated.
- Crying in a toilet cubicle at work.
Phew. Does anyone else feel exhausted just reading this?
The reality is that so many of us were brought up to be raging on-our-knees, bow-to-all people-pleasers, and it means we may have lost contact with our own needs and we’re running on fear – fear of not keeping people happy, not being good enough and not doing enough.
I am a people-pleaser – actually I’m a recovering people-pleaser because I just had to dial it back. I learned that it can really take its toll on your health and sanity if you don’t get it under control. It stops us stating our needs, being realistic about what we can and can’t do, and from well, having the life we’re meant to have.
That’s just the way it is. (No, it’s how you make it)
Typically when I’m having this conversation with a client, it’s around this point they will say something like – “Well, you see, in the real estate industry you just can’t afford to not pick up the phone, you know?” or “My staff need me, I can’t not take the call or respond to their email because it just slows them down and I don’t want to do that to them.” And I’ve had this conversation with lawyers, school principals, real estate agents, national sales team managers, business owners, and a whole host more.
I get that it can feel as if you have to be super-available and that things might fall apart if you’re not there and that if you can’t be available it’s not fair on other people. But what is fair on you? And when does it all stop?
I also completely understand that each industry is different and that the timeframes and demands vary. Of course. But it’s really easy to let that be an excuse to work all hours and be a slave to your own beliefs.
Do you have customers who seem to think calling you at 8 o’clock at night is perfectly reasonable? Do you have a client who is constantly late with delivering information to you but still demands you deliver on time? Do you have team members who still come to you with the same problems and no possible solutions?
We train people into our availability and into their expectations by what we say and do. If you pick up the phone at 8pm, the person you’re talking to learns that you’ll pick up your phone at 8pm. If you tell your team member how to fix a problem they will keep coming back (although I’m sure you usually ask them what they think needs to happen and suggest they can handle that kind of scenario next time). And you will not empower them!
Hyper-availability has us acting like we have an infinite amount of time to do everything and we just plain don’t. Business consultant Mike Ashby makes a very valuable point here about this and how it can hamper a business.
So, hyper-availablism – what can you do about this baby?
Let’s focus on boundaries, because so many of life’s challenges come down to having good (or not so good) boundaries.
- Set boundaries in your own mind
Decide what you need and when you can be available (and still have a life).
- What is the latest you’re prepared to be available for calls in the evenings, and if you do want to be available in the evenings, do you protect another part of your day or week for time with your kids/spouse/squash buddy?
- I’m a big fan of closing your office door or working from home for a day or a morning to get the heavy thinking kind of work done. When do you want to make that happen?
- What is your limit to how late a client can submit information/requests etc to you before you decide it’s having too negative an impact on your team?
- Office hours: what is your ideal? What is your limit? (And if you work from home this still applies. I have worked from home off and on for 15 years and I can tell you – you need your own office hours).
- Write it all down. Three times. And put that baby next to your computer, on the door of your fridge at home and on your car dashboard. This reminds your mind about your boundaries. (It’s like having training wheels on a bike – it gets you going).
- Behave in line with your boundaries
This sounds simple, right? Just do what you say you’re going to do. Ha. If it was that easy I would not be writing this article right now! But seriously, you have to act in accordance with your boundaries or no one else will. They won’t take you seriously and you’ll confuse the bejeepers out of everyone.
- Keep it simple for them. If you are officially knocked off at 6pm, don’t pick up your phone. Don’t respond to emails. Don’t phone people up!
- If you do want to spend an hour one evening sorting email, create all your draft responses and just hit Send in the morning. It’s not ‘lying’, it’s making your spare time your own time. It’s no one’s business when you clear email or type up a report or edit a document they’ve sent you.
- Communicate your boundaries
One of the typical concerns I hear from business owners, CEOs, managers is that if they’re not available (for instance because they’ve shut their door or they’re working from home on a Wednesday morning) it’s a hassle for people. In most cases, it’s only a hassle if people DON’T KNOW. Once you let your team know you’re working from home on Wednesday’s or won’t be taking calls after 3pm on a Thursday because it’s your after school kids time, they get used to it. Most people don’t mind, they just want to KNOW.
It’s true that in some instances something can’t wait. A client needs an answer on something. A deadline has suddenly had to be brought forward. Etcetera.
The thing is, these are hopefully exceptions and should be treated as such.
Are you walking around based on all the exceptions or is your rule that you really do have boundaries?
- Use your out of office replies to keep people posted – it’s polite and informative to let them know if you’re not going to be able to respond to emails. And it doesn’t have to be framed as a big apology, just an FYI – I’m out, I love ya, will get back to ya, have a great day.
- Use your voicemail on your mobile and/or office desk to explain your hours if they are slightly unusual or have changed. I think we pussy-foot around about telling people what hours we work and it’s ridiculous. So you work three days a week and you leave at 4pm. Good on you!! I’m a big fan of shorter work weeks. BUT if I’m trying to get hold of you, pleeease tell me in your voicemail or out of office which days you’re available. Then I know and I can work with it. Not knowing why I haven’t had a response or when I can get hold of you is reeeallly frustrating!
The reality is that so many of us really were brought up to be great raging bow-to-all people-pleasers, but this does not create the quality of life you were meant to have.
And what kind of life do you really want?