Is It OK to Tell Your Boss That You're Overwhelmed?

Telling your boss you're overwhelmed is the only way you'll ever get help.
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Everyone has a breaking point when it comes to work. When you reach that point, your health can suffer the effects of stress and your company can experience a loss in productivity, a reduction in quality or both effects at once. While it can be uncomfortable or maybe even scary to turn work away, there does come a time when you have to tell your boss you’ve already got more than you can handle. It is especially important to come clean if all the boss sees day in and day out is you completing all the work she’s giving you. After all, your boss is not a mind-reader. You’re the only one who can tell her how much is too much.

Prepare your Case

    Before you talk to your boss about the workload, take an objective look at what you do every day and weigh your responsibilities against your productivity. Ask yourself if you're managing your time as effectively as possible. If the answer is yes, schedule a meeting with your boss and prepare yourself for the discussion. Look at the situation through your boss’s eyes and try to imagine what she will ask you when you present your case. Thinking of her questions in advance can help you to make sure you have the answers before she asks for them.

Document What's Changed

    Create a document that lists your current responsibilities and compares them to what you were doing when the workload was manageable. Highlight what changes occurred when you started to feel pressured and how things grew to the current, overwhelming condition. Be clear and concise. Consider presenting your information in bulleted and graphical formats that clearly show steadily increasing responsibilities. Describe what occurred to cause the increase, such as a reduction in staff numbers or the addition of new projects. Make sure to also show any increase in hours worked.

Recommend Solutions

    The best way to get management’s help in solving a problem is by providing solution ideas rather than simply throwing the problem upward. After you’ve documented the problem clearly, ask yourself what you would do to resolve it if you had the authority to shift workloads or hire resources. Think like a manager. Consider colleagues in your department or elsewhere in the company who might have the ability to pick up some of your responsibilities. Other options can include contract help, interns and co-op students from local colleges. Document several options for resolution to show your boss you’re willing to share the responsibility for the decision.

Review and Practice

    When you think your presentation is ready, review it again and then ask a trusted colleague or friend to read through it. Address any logic flaws and confirm that the information provided is enough to fully explain your situation. Practice giving the presentation so you can speak to it in a knowledgeable and relaxed manner when it’s time to share the information with your boss.

Present your Case

    Get plenty of rest the night before your meeting -- you want to be fresh when you present your problem and recommendations. The increased workload has been a point of stress for you, and stress can lead to emotional outbursts. During your meeting, however, is not the time for an outburst. Remember you have done your homework. You have evidence of increased demands on your time, and you have suggestions to show your willingness to bring about positive change. The more rational you are during your presentation, the more likely your boss will be to listen.

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