If you’re feeling burnt out, there’s a good chance you may be over-functioning.  So, what is that you ask?  The folks at Resilient Leadership define over-functioning like this, “To think, feel, or act for another in a way that erodes their capacity for ownership or thoughtful action” (Duggan & Theurer, 2017).

Over-functioning is a term borrowed from Bowen theory and adopted by organization and leadership consultants as a way to better understand and work with the relational dynamics inherent in leadership.  Over-functioning describes a way of relating to others, particularly when anxiety is high.

According to the experts who study this stuff, over-functioning is the single biggest source of burnout.

So, what does over-functioning look like, and how do you know if you’re doing it?

Below are some examples of what over-functioning looks like in action.

You MAY be over-functioning if:

  • You are doing something for someone that they are fully capable of doing themselves. This does not mean acts of kindness from the goodness of your heart or caring for small children, the elderly, or a friend in need, but rather is doing work that is another’s to do.
  • When you worry a lot about someone else.  Worrying is a sign of anxiety. It involves expending excessive mental energy, thinking, and feeling for others. Check yourself. Notice if you’re spending as much time, or more, worrying about someone’s self-esteem, financial well-being, or career than they are.
  • You think you know what’s best for someone else. When you jump to conclusions, intervene and take action – cutting someone off at the pass – to prevent them from acting.  When you ASS-U-ME, you know what is best for someone else —stop, observe, listen, and think again.
  • Giving unsolicited advice.  This broadcasts that you think you know what’s best, and a) is unnecessary, and b) leads to resentment and disengagement.
  • When you step in and take over for someone else because they aren’t doing things your way.  This sends a message to the other person that they don’t know what they are doing — so why should they bother trying? They may start thinking they should step aside and let you take over!
  • When you expect things to be done exclusively your way.  Chances are you’re getting in the way of someone else’s growth and development — inhibiting their opportunity to think and problem-solve.
  • When you believe you’re responsible for other people’s feelings.  Not only is this not your responsibility, but it also sends a message that they’re incapable of managing their own feelings.

Whew!  If you’re doing any of these regularly — it’s no wonder you’re burnt out!

And guess what else?  If you’re over-functioning, someone else is under-functioning.

If any of this rings true for you, you’re not alone! With practice, you can change.

For more information on how you and your team can overcome burnout, contact BeWell Leadership.com

Please note: This article references anxiety, burnout, and stress, and NOT clinical anxiety or depression. If you experience clinical symptoms, please consult a professional.


Duggan, B. & Theurer, B. (2017).  Resilient Leadership 2.0.

Miller, J.A. (2019).  The Anxious Organization:  Why smart companies do dumb things. (3rd ed.).