How to tell your boss you’re overwhelmed

By Sharlyn Lauby | 

Workplace stress is a real issue. According to a survey conducted by Everest College, eight in ten employees are stressed by at least one thing at work. When you start drilling down for specifics about what those individual stressors might be, workload is tops on the list. A survey from employee assistance program provider ComPsych says 46 percent of worker stress is related to the amount of work employees have on their plates.

So, how can employees deal with having too much work? Well, it’s not by suffering in silence. Employees should find a way to discuss the situation with their manager. That might not be as easy as it sounds. Here are a few things that might help the conversation:

Conduct a Work Assessment

Before speaking with your manager, try to conduct a personal work assessment. It’s important to be educated about your current workload. Your manager is going to have questions. You’ll want to be able to talk about your responsibilities in specific terms without coming across as defensive.

Take an inventory of your current responsibilities. Think about your job description. Have you been assigned additional responsibilities? And are those new duties permanent or temporary? Also think about the deadlines that have been established for your work. Are all your deadlines at the same time or are they staggered over a span of time? Finally, consider the processes you have to use and the people you have to work with to accomplish your projects. Do they help or hinder your ability to get things done?

Next, decide specifically what you’re trying to accomplish. Now that you have conducted an inventory of your work, it’s time to decide the purpose of your conversation. The inventory you just completed might help you decide if the goal in speaking with your manager is to 1) have a responsibility removed from your job, 2) have a deadline extended so you have time to complete the task, or 3) get support from the manager to change a process (or prod a co-worker) to help you deliver your work on time. When you’re overwhelmed, it might be tempting to say option #1 is the goal of the conversation, but maybe all that’s needed is a little extra time. So carefully consider your options.

Speaking to Your Manager Takes Preparation

When it’s time to talk with your manager, schedule a time to talk. This is not a conversation to have on the fly in the hallway. Send the message that you’ve done your homework.

Practice what you want to say. If your work assessment is in a format that you can share with your boss, consider showing them what you’ve put together. Find someone that you can practice having the conversation with. During your role play, instruct your partner to ask some tough questions. Chances are your boss is going to; this will help you prepare. Come ready with a proposed solution to offer. In fact, consider having more than one solution.

Be committed to the team and doing your best work. It might not be realistic to expect an immediate answer from your boss. They could ask for time to think about your proposal. The one thing you want to do is make sure your manager knows that you are committed to your job and the team. Your manager will want to work with you when your efforts are viewed as trying to create a win rather than delivering an ultimatum.

Work Options Do Exist

Each of us can be faced with situations where the amount of work we need to get done seems overwhelming. It doesn’t mean we don’t have any options. Sometimes the options are difficult to identify, but with some planning, we can talk with our manager about ways to take control of our workload.

We all want the same thing. Companies, managers, and employees want to deliver excellent products and services to customers. Being stressed out and overwhelmed doesn’t accomplish that. So, keep the conversation focused on what really matters for everyone.


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