Person happily people-pleasing
People + Culture

How people-pleasing can affect your career

People-pleasing is when you don’t acknowledge your own boundaries. As a result, your colleagues don’t either.

Are you a people-pleaser? Have you considered how people-pleasing might affect your career?

Here we look at people-pleasing, what is it, how is it limiting your opportunities for advancement and how can you stop unnecessary people-pleasing at work.

What is people-pleasing?

People-pleasers might confuse themselves as rule-followers, hard workers, or nice people. But the reality is that when you’re a people-pleaser you go one step further than just following the rules or being kind.

People-pleasing is when you don’t acknowledge your own boundaries. As a result, your colleagues don’t either. It can result in being overworked, burnout, and being taken advantage of if a work setting.

Ask yourself, do you:

  • find yourself agreeing with colleagues even when you have a different point of view?
  • think too much about what others think of you?
  • find yourself saying yes to taking on more work, even when you don’t have the capacity?
  • take on more work than you should or are credited for when working in a team?
  • have a hard time saying no?

You might be a people-pleaser.

Colleague discussing the impact of people-pleasing

How can it affect your career?

The desire to be liked is normal; it’s human nature, and everyone feels this way.

But when it turns into the need to receive everyone else’s approval it becomes an unhealthy characteristic known as approval thinking. This is where you will go out of your way to please others, doing things that may not be beneficial for you in a bid for others to accept you.

The danger of approval thinking is that it can quickly turn into your biggest self-limiting belief, and it will get in the way of achieving what you truly desire.

For example, you may discuss a new opportunity with an existing client and in a bid to appease them, offer a discounted fee. This means your working relationship will not be as beneficial for you as it could be, all for the sake of having them like you.

Other ways people-pleasing can affect your career include:

  • Taking on more work to prove yourself.
  • Taking on more work simply because you don’t want to say no.
  • Staying on a certain career path because you don’t want to disappoint others.
  • Becoming deeply unhappy at work (employee attrition has been linked to poor boundaries and poor management at work).

Two friends chatting about people-pleasing

Four tips to stop people-pleasing at work

  1. Be aware of how often you say ‘yes’

As with anything, the most important step is recognising the behaviour. Track how often you say yes and under what circumstances. Do you find it hard to say no to a particular person in your workplace? Identify if it was appropriate to say yes in those circumstances, and, if not, practice how you could say no to be better prepared for next time.

  1. Seek out a mentor

Finding someone in the workplace who can be an advocate for you can help you find your voice. It’s also a good way to hold yourself accountable and recognise improvements in your journey to stop people-pleasing. See, The how and why of workplace wellness.

  1. Test yourself

Set small goals, like saying no to every fourth project or raising your hand to raise an alternate viewpoint in every second meeting. This is a good way to flex your ability to say no. With practice, you will get better at drawing your boundaries in the workplace.

  1. Pause before responding

If you are a people-pleaser, saying yes without thinking is second nature. Buy yourself some time and build a pause in the interaction. This gives you time to consider your options and whether you should really say yes. You could even say something like, “Let me check my calendar” or “I’ll have to check my capacity for new projects this month with my manager”.


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