How to Overcome People Pleasing in the Office - 3 women sitting on couch discussing something with paper and pen

How to Overcome People Pleasing in the Office

Haeli Harris
December 14, 2022
December 14, 2022

In this day and age, it feels that careers are influenced by how others may perceive you. Are you finding yourself saying yes to tasks that are beyond what you feel comfortable handling? Read on to find tips on how to overcome people pleasing. 

What is people pleasing? 

People pleasing is placing other people before yourself, to the point where your own needs aren’t being met.

People pleasing in the office might look like helping your supervisors or coworkers on a new project before you finish your current one. 

It may look like taking on the responsibilities of others even while you are drowning in work. 

We cave into the needs of others based on a desire to achieve approval and get coworkers and supervisors to like and accept us. It can extend to the approval of customers as well. In the workplace, it often looks like taking on more tasks in order to feel needed by others. 

In addition to seeking approval from others, you may find yourself people pleasing to build your self-confidence. 

While these reasons are valid, people pleasing can be detrimental to your mental wellbeing. A lot of times it can deplete you of energy, plus your feelings of self-worth, because you are neglecting your needs in favor of others.

Why am I so drawn to people pleasing?

You may feel drawn to people pleasing because of your personal background and upbringing. 

Oftentimes, people who have grown up in perfectionist households will be prone to people pleasing. This is the case because children of perfectionist parents may feel the need to receive love and validation through meeting unattainable expectations given by others.

Likewise, people who have suffered abuse at the hands of a loved one will also be drawn to people pleasing. Abuse would be considered any pattern of behavior used to gain or maintain power and control over another person. It comes in many forms: physical, emotional, sexual, technological, financial, and many others.

If you have suffered abuse or neglect, you may be drawn to people pleasing as a way to either appease others, avoid conflict or gain perceived love and respect. Often, people pleasing can be drawn to a traumatic event or time in a person’s life. 

Even if a workplace relationship may not be abusive, you may feel the need to people please since people pleasing can be a trauma response to avoid danger in the now. 

Lastly, you may be drawn to people pleasing if you feel anxious about the viability of a work and/or social relationship. Many people resort to people pleasing because they are afraid of losing or failing a relationship or a job. 

How to Overcome People Pleasing

The key to how to overcome being a people pleaser is to work on setting boundaries in the workplace. Generally, setting boundaries means knowing your workload and being able to say no when necessary.  

Boundaries can look like limitations on what you can do during the day. You may place a restriction on how late you are willing to stay at the office or how much additional work you can take on. If needed, you can create boundaries by asking to reduce the number of responsibilities you have taken on if you feel that it extends beyond your job requirements.

When you set boundaries, it’s important to remember your time constraints and abilities. Here are some practical statements to share with your coworker to avoid people pleasing:

  • I’m glad you came to me for help. I need to finish this task first and then I can help you. 
  • Sure, and I will be available to help you for a few minutes. 
  • I’m sorry I won’t be able to work on this project at this time. If you still need help later, I can help after I’ve finished my current project.

Haeli Harris, Director of Clinical Operations at Nivati and LMFT, encourages clients to be mindful of the language they use when setting boundaries: “Something I recommend to my clients is saying "Yes, and..." instead of “But…” A lot of people really like this because “but” can sometimes feel off putting for people pleasers.”

Employees should try to practice having a healthy work-life balance. It is important to leave work at work and allow yourself to practice some self-care. If you do not finish all of your tasks in one day, it’s okay to leave work to finish for the next day. 

How Managers Can Support Their Employees

Supervisors can help support employees in their understanding of how to overcome being a people pleaser. A great leader should be the most equipped to support their employees as they complete their responsibilities.

Managers should be able to recognize when they see that an employee is taking on too many of other people’s responsibilities. If the workload is unbalanced or unfair, leaders can negotiate responsibilities with their employees or even find more employees, as long as the budget allows for it.

Ultimately, managers can set the precedent on how to create healthy work-life boundaries. 

Here are some ways that employers can support employees:

  1. Encourage employees to take a day off to recharge when needed. Make sure to encourage them to disconnect from work fully, and not to answer emails or messages while taking time off.
  2. Offer support to alleviate their stress through one-on-one meetings, providing info on the company wellbeing program, etc.
  3. Ensure a fair distribution of work responsibilities. 
  4. Validate employees with verbal affirmations, such as congratulations, gratitude, or any other uplifting language.

For more on boundary setting in the workplace, check out these articles:


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Haeli Harris
Haeli Harris
Haeli Harris, LMFT is the Director of Clinical Operations at Nivati. She has been practicing as a Marriage and Family Therapist since 2014. Haeli has experience working as a therapist in private practice settings, residential facilities, outpatient treatment care, schools, and telehealth.