Of the various things you can do to stand out at work, volunteering is perhaps the most effective. Putting yourself out there and showing your employer that you're not afraid to take the lead on new tasks is a good way to set yourself up for an eventual promotion.
But there comes a point when volunteering too much can actually set your career back and make your life needlessly difficult at work. Here are a few reasons to volunteer in moderation, rather than be that person who steps up all the time.
1. You'll spread yourself too thin
In some regards, being a jack of all trades can help your career; the more you volunteer at work, the more areas of the business you're likely to dabble in. On the other hand, if you offer assistance on too many different projects, you might lose the opportunity to hone a few key skills that can set you apart from your colleagues. That's why it pays to be a bit selective in your volunteerism, by focusing on projects that are likely to serve your career well.
For example, say you're looking to get promoted to IT manager, and are given the opportunity to oversee the implementation of a new database. That's the sort of assignment that might take your career in the right direction. On the other hand, if you volunteer to work late to audit a basic database update, and that's something almost anyone on your team can do -- you might look good by virtue of offering to do the work, but it's not the sort of thing that's going to impress anyone too much.
2. You'll risk burning out
The term "burnout" has become popular in workplace lingo, but it's actually a pretty serious state to reach: The Mayo Clinic defines it as "a state of physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion, combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work." If you volunteer constantly, to the point where you're always working, then you risk burning out and hurting your sanity along with your career.
Rather than open yourself up to the possibility of burning out, be judicious with how frequently you volunteer. If you work late almost every night in a week, give yourself a week off before stepping up for something new that might require burning the midnight oil again.
3. You'll have a harder time saying no when needed
Being known as an avid volunteer is both a blessing and a curse. On the plus side, it could help you build a solid reputation. On the other hand, people might grow to regard you as someone who will always say yes, which could hurt you by setting unreasonable expectations at the office. That's why it pays to volunteer just often enough to get your boss's attention, but not so frequently that people will start to look at you funny if you dare decline an assignment.
Volunteering at work can be a good thing -- until it isn't. To avoid crossing that line, step up on occasion, but not all the time. With any luck, that'll do the trick in getting your manager to recognize what a valuable employee you are.
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