Avoid Burnout: Embrace your Inner B-Player

We glorify A-Players. The best, smartest, most successful workers. Whoever heard a hiring manager say they want to hire a bunch of B-Players? Never. It’s always about getting the best — aka A-Players. And understandably so. A-Players are usually defined as the top 10% of performers. Self-starters who go above and beyond to get the job done, no matter what. If that describes you, how’s that working out? If you’re like many people, you may be exhausted, burnt out, and frustrated looking for the off-ramp.

Yet it starts on day one of a new job. How often have you implemented these common ‘best practices’ when starting a new role?

· Put your best foot forward — first impressions are critical.

· Challenge yourself to take on new projects and add value as soon as possible.

· Work really, really hard for your first 90 days.

· Prove your worth early on.

The idea is that once you’ve made a great impression and identified yourself as a hard worker, you can start to relax. After all, everyone knows you’re good at your job — so backing off a bit shouldn’t be an issue, right?


There’s a fallacy in this approach: since you’ve conditioned everyone around you to expect peak performance, you’ve created an unrealistically high bar for yourself. It's hard to backtrack once you set an example of how much you’re willing to work. Giving anything less than 100% will make you seem off your game. Instead, you end up stuck in a never-ending quest to outperform yourself, which ultimately puts you on the fast track to burning out while taking a mental and physical toll.

So what can you do instead?

Here’s my take: start your next job as a solid B-Player. By that, I mean go into the job operating at a lower intensity — show your worth, but don’t come out of the gate at full speed. Work hard, but don’t overwork yourself. Deliberately hold back while building a knowledge base, monitor and track your progress, and learn your way around the new work environment.

Then, when the opportunity arises, shift into high gear. To everyone else, it’ll look like you’re excelling. When you wrap up whatever you’re working on, you can move back to your baseline level of work — a solid B plus — without anyone thinking you’ve dropped the ball.

It’s a win-win situation: you’re not putting yourself in a position where you must constantly hold yourself to impossible standards. And your colleagues will know you’re the person they can rely on to pull out all the stops when the going gets tough. This approach is less taxing, so you’ll avoid burning out by working yourself to the bone non-stop. In the long run, this strategy leads to a more balanced lifestyle and greater satisfaction.

This may be a polarizing approach for a lot of people. It may seem illogical to intentionally not work as hard as you think you should. But think about it this way: endurance athletes don’t train at 100%. On the contrary, they tend to follow the 80/20 rule — 80% of the time, they follow a lower-intensity training schedule that doesn’t stress the body unnecessarily. 20% of the time, they go full-out. Science has found that this approach maximizes performance without putting athletes at an increased risk of serious injury. Why couldn’t we follow a similar path in the workplace? High-intensity pushes should be few and far between versus a state of constant stress.

As a leadership and executive coach of Type A overachievers, I often ask clients how they are rewarded for finishing their to-do lists. Not only does 'finishing' a to-do list never happen, but often, they say the 'reward' is being given MORE work. 

Think about that for a second… the harder you work, the more work you are assigned. You are given more work to do since you are such a strong performer. Hence, the fallacy is that you can take your foot off the gas for a bit after proving yourself in a new position. You never unbury yourself from the growing list of tasks and projects you’re given once someone realizes how much you can fit on your plate.

It’s no wonder that successful employees quickly become disengaged, frustrated, and burned out. Then, you have to decide whether you want to keep pushing through and hope the feelings of burnout end (they won’t) or quit and start over somewhere else, only for the cycle to inevitably repeat itself. Stop the cycle. Only you can control it.

For those still skeptical, consider another sports analogy: think of a B-Player as the player who assists the one who scores in basketball or soccer. Or a relief pitcher in baseball. They may spend more time on the bench, but their team knows they can rely on them to get the job done when the pressure is on. Sure, they aren’t the star players, but what happens to stars when they burn too bright? They burn out.

That’s why I’ve started recommending this strategy to my coaching clients. Inevitably, they tell me why it won’t work. I’m not surprised they react like this; it goes against every belief we’ve all been taught about succeeding in the corporate world. We were taught that first impressions are important, and your first 100 days in a job can greatly impact the rest of your tenure. Why wouldn’t you try to impress everyone you meet during those early days on the job?

But like Simon Sinek says in The Infinite Game, once we make it to the top, the best we can do is try to stay there. And that’s exhausting.

There's only so much energy and time in our lives.  Do you want to spend much of it proving your worth to colleagues only to be rewarded with more work? Or, do you want to expend your energy at a moderate pace while keeping some in reserve for when you need to put out a ‘fire’?

Consider starting your next job as a B-Player. More control. Less stress. More satisfaction.