Burned Out? How to Tell Your Boss You're Feeling Overwhelmed at Work

Burned Out? How to Tell Your Boss You’re Feeling Overwhelmed at Work

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Have you ever lamented about your workload in the office only to hear, “join the club” or “stop complaining and figure it out” as a response?

Okay, maybe I went to the extreme with the responses (or did I?) but you catch my drift right? In some cases, no matter how you try to make your approach diplomatic, there isn’t a good way to tell your boss that you’re overwhelmed.

Instead of feeling better after providing context, your thoughts are probably more like:

“Why did I just say that? He’s going to think I’m incapable.”

“Oh no, did I just make a huge mistake and sound incompetent?”

(Insert worst career fear here)

How does one tackle this seemingly tough career cookie?

You come up with a strategy.

Burned Out? How to Tell Your Boss You're Feeling Overwhelmed at Work

Start by taking a good hard look at what’s on your plate. If you need to run your list by someone else to see if it really is too much for one person to handle, go for it.  You can ask a trusted friend or colleague for their opinion. Doing this will come in handy in the later stage too (I’ll explain why further down).

To provide a professional’s take on the topic – below are the insights Publishers Weekly highlighted from Julie Morgenstern’s book titled Never Check E-Mail In the Morning: And Other Unexpected Strategies for Making Your Work Life Work.

“Whether in the executive boardroom or a windowless cubicle, the key to a more balanced, productive existence, according to organizer extraordinaire Morgenstern, is PEP (physical health, escape and people), the four Ds (delete, delay, delegate and diminish) and a healthy dose of reality about what is doable, and what is impossible, at work.”

Don’t beat yourself up

Take a deep breath. Everyone feels overwhelmed at some point. Cut yourself some slack already! It’s not that you’re incapable, you’re just stretching yourself too thinly or trying to juggle too many things at once. Remember that while you don’t want to come off as rude for turning down tasks, you wouldn’t want to keep saying yes to new tasks only to find that you can’t deliver your best work on each of them.

Be honest, state the facts and suggest solutions

Make a list that includes:

  • All the tasks that are on your plate and how long it takes you to finish each
  • Rank those tasks in order of importance
  • Evaluate how your workload is making it difficult for you to meet your KPIs and how it may affect the company’s bottom line.
  • Which tasks can be de-prioritized or delegated.

Seek advice and support

Set up a face to face meeting with your boss. Do not make the mistake of sending your boss an email marked ‘urgent’ to put in a request for meeting as soon as possible. This connotes a lack of professionalism. Instead, keep your tone neutral and mention that you would like to have a chat on Project Y when your manager has the time.

During your meeting, go through your list (maintain a positive, professional tone) and give your boss the rundown. Make sure you mention your solutions and keep an open mind to what your boss has to say in return.

Lend a hand

So you’ve successfully got someone else to handle Mr X’s account. Does that mean you can wash your hands of it? No, you can’t. Instead, try to make yourself available for brainstorming sessions, to read first drafts of proposals/reports, to be a sounding board and provide advice. Mention that you are willing to carve time out of your schedule to help out.

Let your work mates know

This is what I was referring to at the beginning of the article. Confide (in a professional manner) to your team or colleagues. Do this so that if you drop the ball or end up causing the team some distress – you don’t dismantle the trust you’ve worked to build with them. Who knows, there may be someone with less on their plate who is willing to help you out too.

Stop saying yes to more work straight away

Instead, tell your boss that you need to evaluate your current workload before you can commit to anything else. Give him a reasonable deadline for when you will get back to him.

Shift your priorities

Say it with me, “it’s not a priority”. Try saying this instead of “I have no time” when you’re evaluating your workload and see how it makes you feel.  When you’re overwhelmed or experiencing burnout – every task suddenly becomes a top priority. Don’t panic. Evaluate which of those you can delegate, which ones you can handle and which you need to let go or get help with.

If you’re higher up the corporate ladder, remember that your tasks will shift from completing day-to-day work and focus more on managing your team and honing their skills. Try to delegate tasks, empower your team members and let them get to it.

Know your audience

Tailor your approach based on the type of person your employer is. Gain their perspective, use it to your advantage but hold your ground. Remember, it’s up to you to ‘just say when’.

“It is not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials.”

– Bruce Lee

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