A busy worker in an office

The Pros and Cons of Wearing Many Hats

How to know when you're stretched too thin ... and what to do about it.

On any given day, you’re involved in almost everything that goes on in your office — whether it’s part of your job description or not. 

And in general, you’re OK with that because you like to know what’s going on. However, there are times when you’re pulled in about one million directions, and all those hats become more of a burden than an opportunity.

Here are some everyday signs that you’re wearing a lot of hats and how to manage them.

1. Your inbox is always full
Ever find emails in your inbox that leave you wondering, “Was this supposed to be sent to me?” This is likely a sign that your hat is thrown into too many rings, and it might be time to set some boundaries.

Pro: That full inbox means your team trusts and respects your voice, so they want your input. They look to you for answers because they know you have them, and they trust your judgment.

Con: You lose time trying to answer questions from random departments that involve matters far beyond your job description or on topics that you have zero context on. It’s tough to provide help in situations like this.

Try this: Ask your team members to tag you in an email with @YourName if they truly need your input. This will encourage them to think through whether or not they are asking the right person for assistance. 

2. You’re the go-to person for office questions
Where do we keep the printer ink? Where does that new woman from accounting sit? What’s that one vendor’s contact info? All day long, people look to you for answers to the most ambiguous questions as well as the ridiculously specific.

Pro: You’re seen as someone that can always find the answers, and you’re proud of that. You know that helping your team with questions like this — big or small — keeps the business trains running smoothly and on time.

Con: Incessant questions can sometimes interrupt your workflow and adversely affect your productivity. They often arise at the worst possible times — right when you’re in the middle of something else of equal importance.

Try this: Create a process or guidelines for your team to ask office questions. Consider aspects such as how the request is submitted, time sensitivity of the question, and the time you’ll need to produce an answer. For example, if someone needs something within the hour, they can send you an instant message. However, if what they need is not urgent, they can add it to a shared document of outstanding requests.

3. You can solve any problem
Whether you need to find a caterer that can serve gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan options, or a discontinued electronic device in the conference room needs a missing part, you can find a way to solve any problem — even if it’s not in your job description.

Pro: This is a sign your team knows and trusts that you can handle anything they throw your way. Because of this, you love being the go-to person for the toughest office problems and the satisfaction that comes with finding a solution.

Con: A lot of pressure comes with problem-solving — particularly when there’s a deadline or meeting relying on your solution. This can make it feel like you’re under a magnifying glass and sometimes even force you to work longer hours, which isn’t ideal.

Try this: Keep a running list of all the problems that come across your desk, and a short description about them. When it’s time for your annual review, make sure your manager knows how frequently these requests come in and how seamlessly you solve them for the team. This could lead to a bonus or even a promotion.

4. You know the good and bad of your team 
Monday mornings are for small talk. How was your weekend? What shows are you watching on Netflix? Big week ahead? But sometimes you also have meaningful conversations that go much deeper about relationships, personal struggles and even family drama.

Pro: Everyone in the office feels like they have a connection with you, and they’re comfortable with you because you’re involved in so many departments. You have made genuine connections across the organization, working alongside people on various projects.

Con: No matter how much you love your team, sometimes idle small talk can feel like a waste of valuable time or start to cross work-appropriate boundaries. It’s great getting updates on everyone’s lives, but the truth is sometimes it just causes you more stress.

Try this: Don’t be afraid to put yourself first. If you’re just not in the mood to chat one day or a conversation is making you uncomfortable, share this with your co-worker in a kind and thoughtful way. Chances are they’ll understand and give you some space.

5. You can’t define your job
Typically your title only really describes one-tenth of what you do in a week. How can you possibly explain this at your next family dinner? 

Pro: You’re involved in almost every aspect of the business — ordering supplies, interviewing interns, managing the books. This exposure is great, and you love that you’re always learning new things.

Con: When you have requests coming in from all angles without a clear role, it can be hard to know what to prioritize. Plus, it becomes increasingly hard to draw boundaries around what should and shouldn’t be on your desk.

Try this: Figure out what you want in this situation, and use that as a starting point to how you approach this. It might be time to change your job title and description, or it might be time to raise a flag that you can’t do it all.

The next time you find yourself stacked to the ceiling with hats, use these tips to determine how you’d like to approach the situation. Remember that there’s no right or wrong decision. At the end of the day, the best decision is the one that will make you happiest with your job.