How to Talk to a Boss About Extreme Job Stress

Talk to your boss -- she's there to help you.
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When work is stressing you out, it can start to creep into your personal life, making even your downtime difficult. Whether it's a workload that's too heavy, bullying co-workers or some other type of workplace stress, the last thing you should do is keep it to yourself. If you don't deal with it now, your extreme stress could lead to burnout -- making it next to impossible to get even simple tasks completed. If you're worried about talking to your boss about the stress you're under, do what you can to approach her with an organized, well thought-out solution plan.

    Step 1

    Write down all the activities you do at work, every hour, every day for a week. Write down the work-related activities, as well as the "side" jobs you may have, such as making coffee for co-workers and answering emails and voice messages, and note how much time you're spending on each activity. If your stress is related to co-workers or something else not related to workload, do the same exercise -- but make notes of the times you were bullied or were dealing with extreme stress throughout the week.

    Step 2

    Use the activity list to determine whether there are things you can cut out of your daily routine to ease the strain and help you address the things that really need to get done. Also determine whether there are activities you can delegate to other people, such as secretaries, interns or co-workers. Write down your suggestions so you can present them to the boss. If your problem concerns co-workers, your suggestions may be to move desks or move to a different department. If there are things you see on the list that you can do now to ease the stress, start doing them.

    Step 3

    Email the boss to ask for a private meeting to discuss your job performance. Don't give too many details -- just ask for 15 to 20 minutes of the boss' time to discuss an important matter. Sending an email to ask for the meeting serves multiple purposes: it creates a paper trail that you may be able to use later on, showing that you've taken steps to get help; it also creates a written account which may help the boss remember the meeting.

    Step 4

    Start out the meeting by expressing your gratitude for the opportunity to work with the company, and let the boss you know really appreciate your job.

    Step 5

    Show your boss your detailed time schedule, giving her an idea of the workload or other factors that are causing you to feel stressed out.

    Step 6

    Present your list of suggestions for easing the strain. Ask your boss for permission to carry out the suggestions. Avoid getting emotional, and remind the boss that your productivity will be increased when you can do a better job with fewer things on your plate, or without having to deal with people who are causing you extreme stress. In some cases, your boss may have other ideas for easing the strain; after all, she's something of an outsider who may be able to see solutions more clearly. She may also offer information about employee assistance programs or other resources that you didn't know existed at the office; it's her job to keep employees on task and thriving.

    Step 7

    Ask for a follow-up meeting to discuss how things have changed -- or not -- following implementation of your suggested changes.


    • If your stress is affecting your health, talk to your doctor about health-related solutions. In some cases, your doctor may recommend mental health resources, or may tell you that you need to reduce your workload for health reasons. In that case, you may have another reason to ask your boss for a reduction in workload: your doctor says you have to do it.


    • Also look for ways to reduce your stress level outside of work. Try yoga, exercise, new hobbies or counseling as ways to clear your mind and better cope while on the job, advises Dennis Winslow, MSW, of Wellness Junction.

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