Me First!

Putting others' needs before your own can be hazardous to your career and your health

Andrew J. Milisits Jr. thought he could do it all. The 36-year-old husband and father of three is an entrepreneur, a soccer coach, and an active member of boards and organizations in the Washington, D.C., area. As the operating manager of the Landover, Maryland-based information technology firm Aitheras L.L.C., Milisits wore many hats, managing a staff of 25 and responding to the day-to-day needs of employees, clients, and vendors. But last year, when working on a request for proposal for a government contract, Milisits’ do-it-all attitude proved costly.

“I missed a key amendment to the RFP that the agency had published on one of its Websites,” says Milisits. “The amendment would have completely changed our response.” Because of this misstep, the company’s bid on a contract worth $5.1 million was disqualified. Losing the contract was disappointing, but Milisits was more disturbed by what he perceived to be the reason for his negligence. “I didn’t check that Website because I’d been doing too many other things,” he admits.

In a corporate culture where employees are pushed to take on increasing responsibilities and men and women must balance the often conflicting demands of careers and families, it’s easy to be stretched too thin by the needs of others. But the consequences of putting other people’s needs before your own can be disastrous. A 2005 study by Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit research organization, found that overworked people are more likely to make mistakes at work. But overextending yourself can affect your mental, emotional, and physical health as well. Through a self-assessment or healthcare professional, you may be able to recognize the symptoms of over commitment (see sidebar: Identifying the Problem) in yourself or a loved one. To minimize the detrimental effects related to overextending yourself, and to learn about preventative measures, as well as helpful resources, see sidebars: Countering Chronic Stress and Finding a Solution.

“People often feel stressed out and overwhelmed and they get to the point where they feel like they’re losing control,” says Marilyn Martin, a Baltimore psychoanalyst and author of Saving Our Last Nerve: The Black Woman’s Path to Mental Health (Hilton Publishing, $16.95). “They then become burned out and depressed.” Each year, depression costs the U.S. economy more than $43.7 billion a year in workplace absenteeism, lost productivity, and treatment costs, according to Mental Health America, an Alexandria, Virginia-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting mental wellness across the nation. Additionally, the organization reports that depression contributes to more than 200 million days lost from work per year. In fact, people with depression average 9.9 sick days annually, more than the 5.4 days, 7.2 days, and 7.5 days taken per year by those who suffer from hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease respectively, according to the managed care publication Depression in the Workplace.

A Common Problem
Milisits’ story is far from uncommon. The Families and Work Institute estimates that one in three employees is chronically overworked. The term “role overload” describes the state in which the demands of a person’s multiple roles are

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