Superhero Syndrome: 8 Signs of Overfunctioning at Work

And how to stop before you’re completely burnt out.

Melody Wilding, LMSW


Photo by Karolina Grabowska

Luciana’s habit of over-functioning at work had helped build a multi-billion dollar business. She had spent over 15 years leading, organizing, staying late, and, if necessary, doing the work for everyone else. Now in her third year as Senior Vice President of communications for a manufacturing company, she felt totally and utterly burned out.

The only problem was that Luciana’s self-worth was deeply intertwined with her performance and reputation at work. She moved through the office as if it were her duty to remedy every problem, even if it was below her level or required her to pitch in on a project last minute.

At the end of most days, Luciana fell into bed with her husband, who often went to sleep hours before her, after working long into the night at the dining room table. Even though she was constantly exhausted and guilty about falling short as a mother, wife, and executive, she kept going anyway, hoping her stress would eventually resolve itself.

Luciana’s story exemplifies what over-functioning at work looks like. It’s a pattern I see in my work as a coach among Sensitive Strivers — high-achievers who are also highly sensitive.

What is Over-functioning?

Over-functioning at work means you are taking on too much responsibility and trying to control things that you can’t. When you over-function, you try to “fix” or “rescue” situations and people, because you fear that if you don’t, no one will.

Overfunctioning can masquerade as helpfulness.

For example, overfunctioners are quick to act. They are usually the first to raise their hand to volunteer for an assignment because they enjoy attacking a to-do list and seizing control. They are usually the co-worker who is always willing to lend a hand and pitch in when a team is short-staffed or a project is going sideways.

But, over-functioning has a dark side. Signs of over-functioning include:



Melody Wilding, LMSW

Author of TRUST YOURSELF. Executive coach to Sensitive Strivers. Human behavior professor. Featured in NYT, NBC, CNN.