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Eliminating Hero Syndrome at Work: Why Everyone Needs a “Bus Plan”

Becoming an indispensable part of the team can often become the focus in the workplace.

Not only does this help us feel secure in our role, but it also helps us feel valued and indispensable. After all—if your work can be done by someone else, it’s always in the back of your mind: “Can I be replaced?”.

With the rapid shift to remote work, there’s more scope for employees to feel recognized, since they can’t be seen working in the office. A study by NordVPN Teams showed that last Thanksgiving had a 41% increase in business VPN server traffic compared to an average weekend, which the company says “suggests that people are spending their family time working.”

This phenomenon of always trying to work harder to be indispensable is called “Hero Syndrome”. Becoming a “hero” at work feels great, but ultimately can be detrimental to both the employee and to the business. Here are some reasons why “hero syndrome” can be misguided, and show you a better strategy for business success.

Why is Hero Syndrome Misguided?

Hero syndrome at work can cause major issues.
Of course, it’s positive for employees to feel they’re successfully contributing to the growth of the business. However, an increased workload for which an individual feels solely responsible can lead to burnout, mental health issues and feeling as though they can’t take a proper break with a detrimental impact to their work.

From a business perspective, relying heavily on key individuals, whether they are the CEO or an apprentice, can also cause major issues if they are ever unable to execute their responsibilities.

There are many reasons this scenario may occur, some include:

  • They retire
  • They leave for another job
  • They become ill
  • They need to take prolonged personal leave
  • Their skills are needed elsewhere in the business
  • They pass away
  • Natural events, such as heavy snowfall, limit their ability to travel
  • They go on maternity/paternity leave
  • They decide to take a sabbatical

All businesses are subject to these changes. Planning in advance will ensure that the business thrives when these changes inevitably occur.

A man and a woman in a colourful, interesting workplace seated at a conference table. They're both looking ahead, past the camera, with notepads and laptops.

Why Everyone Needs a Bus Plan

Businesses need to ask themselves: “What would happen to the business if any single individual was hit by a bus and killed?”.

Morbid, we know.

But having a “Bus Plan” will not only help keep business moving if Worse Case Scenario happens, but it also has multiple day-to-day benefits, such as employees being able to take vacations and re-energize.

Document Business Processes

The first step to limiting the negative impact of hero syndrome is systematically working through what your business does and creating documentation that can be referred to should anyone need to take over another employee’s responsibilities.

To do this, start with the bigger picture, then work down to the more granular aspects. Outlining the various areas and processes that make up your core business will help you to identify which need to be documented. This can be done on a whole business basis, departmental basis, or individual basis. For example, the fundamentals of a sales and marketing team may include:

  1. Awareness – such as social media, paid ads, print ads
  2. Leads – such as phone calls, lead forms, requests for quotes
  3. Sales – such as presentations and pitches
  4. Closing – such as contracts or purchase orders

By breaking down each area you can then start to document how each aspect works. The information gathered on how the sales and marketing team executes social media may include information such as:

  • Which platforms are used
  • How to access those platforms
  • Which scheduling tools are used
  • How content is created and written
  • Any other tools which may be used
  • If there is a content schedule
  • How comments and messages are dealt with

These documents should be simple to understand and apply. They shouldn’t need the person who is responsible for the area to add any additional training for them to be completed. Getting this right may take several edits and updates.

Delegate to Succeed

Once you have created documents that outline exactly how each crucial task is completed, you can start to delegate those elements out to other team members. This is the key to ensuring bottlenecks do not occur. This is so that it gives the team lead a chance to review the guidelines and their effectiveness, but also give them and you the confidence that key areas are being completed to the expected standard.

Mentor Others

Although these documents should allow people to execute key processes without your intervention, applying mentorship can help you ensure consistency and quality.

However, mentorship alone is not a failsafe fix for the bottlenecks created by hero syndrome. Just teaching one, or a small handful of individuals, how to execute these responsibilities could lead to issues if those individuals are also not able to take them on.

The ultimate goal should be to create documentation that could be followed if everyone in your organization was replaced. However, applying mentorship on top of this documentation can help smooth out the process in the most likely scenario that other team members will be available to support those responsibilities.

Test Your Plan

It is crucial to test your ‘bus plan’ regularly.

Taking annual leave, or working on another part of the business, will let you see how well your plan works in practice. If your bus plan is complete, three things should happen:

  1. You can completely remove yourself from the business
  2. Your responsibilities will be executed consistently to the required standard
  3. You should not be contacted with any questions

If you are contacted during these test periods or the processes are not executed correctly during this time, it will be clear which part of your bus plan needs work.

The same woman from the previous image is pointing at a whiteboard with lots of notes on. She's talking to another woman who has her back to the camera.

Eliminate Bottlenecks

The ultimate goal of business leaders should be to eliminate bottlenecks caused by hero syndrome in the workplace and empower their team to do more. This guide will help you take the first steps to systemizing your business and protect it against future challenges.

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