Overfunctioning and Underfunctioning

Aug 3, 2019 | teams

Recently, a client described how he was interacting with a team-mate. “I know my job, and I know what he is supposed to be doing. I just get so frustrated that he can’t finish his part on time. I find myself helping him. I tend to take those parts of his work that he doesn’t like to do. I don’t like them either, but he never finishes.”

Overfunctioning happens all the time. It frequently starts with one person “helping” the other. As the overfunctioner takes on more and more responsibility from other people, the overfunctioner begins to look superhuman to others. The reality is the overfunctioner takes on the responsibilities as a method of self-calming. They may tell themselves, “If I don’t do it, it’ll never get done.” “If you want it done right, do it yourself.” “Other people just don’t understand the right way to do it.” Or the best one of “I have to make sure I do it so the boss isn’t disappointed in the work.”

Two distinct outcomes occur when the overfunctioning/ underfunctioning cycle happens. First, the overfunctioner become overburdened with work outside of their job description. Overfunctioner tend to take on the martyr mantel. “Its okay, I’ll do it. I didn’t need to make it home for supper with my kids tonight.” This added burden and building resentment contributes to employee burnout.

The second outcome is underfunctioners become accustomed to not living up to the best of themselves. They start to think they are not capable of finishing the assigned work on time, or can’t manage a high quality of work, or whatever else the overfunctioner uses as an excuse to take over. Underfunctioners can get to the point where they really can’t perform at their previous level. Attrition occurs when people are in positions where they have decided they are not qualified and need to endure the stress of having an overfunctioner repeated say they are failing.

How do you know you are an overfunctioner?

  1. Do you take on responsibilities outside your job description?
  2. Do you find your stress increasing as you wait for someone else to finish their job?
  3. When a job is done incorrectly, do you do it yourself instead of requiring the other person step up and finish it correctly?


How do you know you are an underfunctioner?

  1. Do you allow people to take responsibility for your job?
  2. Do you find your stress decreases when someone else steps up and finishes your work?
  3. Do you turn in incorrectly finished work knowing someone will fix it?

Being an overfunctioner or underfunctioner is not a life-long sentence. Somewhere at some time, you learned how to under or over function as a method of self-calming. The great news is that you can unlearn this stress response. Once the best of you steps up and functions at your highest level, you will find you can manage your responsibilities.


If you want to find out more about how to break the over and under functioning habit, give Hello People Consulting a call:

Phone is 1.425.318.8096 or email at info@hellopeopleconsulting.com

Julie Swanberg-Hjelm, PhD