How to Tell Your Manager That You’re Overworked

What Your Boss Doesn’t Know May Be Hurting You

Overworked employee
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Getty Images/Luis Alvarez 

Whether you are working remotely or on-site, these are stressful times. It’s harder than ever to juggle work and life—even if you’re able to do it mostly from home. It’s even more of a challenge when you have too much work to do.

According to videoconferencing technology firm Owl Labs’ State of Remote Work 2020 report, 70% of full-time U.S. workers are working from home during COVID-19, and 75% of them are as productive or more productive while working remotely. 

Although the shift to working remotely has benefits for employees, there are also drawbacks. 

Stress, Burnout, and Productivity

The extra productivity spurred by remote work can come at a price. The lines between work and home are blurred, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed and overworked, you’re not alone. 

Is taking on more work contributing to your stress levels? It could be. In the Owl Labs study, full-time employees, on average, reported working an extra 26 hours a month while remote. 

Meanwhile, a FlexJobs and Mental Health America (MHA) survey found that 37% of employed respondents have been working longer hours than usual since the pandemic started. Of the 75% who have experienced burnout at work, 40% said they’ve experienced burnout specifically during the pandemic. 

Pros and Cons of Extra Work

Pros
  • Shows your care about the job

  • Helps bolster skills and career growth

  • Can be used as leverage when asking for raise or promotion

Cons
  • Manager can pile on and take advantage

  • Alters work-life balance

  • Can lead to burnout

Pros of Extra Work Explained

Taking on lots of job responsibilities can be beneficial for your career. It shows you care about your work and aren’t simply doing the bare minimum, watching the clock until it’s time to leave or sign off for the day. It can help you add skills to your resume and help your career to grow. 

When you ask for a raise or you’re aiming for a promotion, going above and beyond the responsibilities detailed in your job description is often the key to success. 

Cons of Extra Work Explained

Still, there’s a flipside. Saying yes to every project and task that comes along can lead to having too much work on your plate. And sometimes you may have too much on your plate for other reasons. Your manager may simply be piling on more responsibilities than any one person can accommodate. Or changing personal responsibilities (such as a sick family member or child care obligations) may mean that you no longer have time to work late nights or weekends to catch up. 

Once your boss knows that you’ll most likely agree to every request, it can become a bit too convenient for them to ask you—and an easy way for them to handle the extra workload.

Too much work can lead to your becoming overwhelmed or burned out, though, which is stressful and bad for your health. Plus, an overflowing to-do list doesn't necessarily result in solid, dependable work. Instead, it can lead to sloppy errors or neglected tasks. 

Informing your supervisor that you're overburdened, however, can be a tricky conversation. After all, you don’t want to come across as lazy or disgruntled. 

Tips for Telling Your Manager You Have Too Much Work

Below are some constructive tips on how to tell your manager that you have too much work. 

Talk to Colleagues or Mentors

Before you reach out to your manager, you may find it helpful to get feedback from others. You can reach out to friends and family members, mentors, or even your colleagues (current or from previous jobs). Don’t have a work confidant? Here are tips for how to find a mentor

An outside perspective can help you figure out whether you have too much work. Alternatively, the people you talk to may be able to offer potential solutions. These solutions may be things you can implement on your own initiative or options to propose to your supervisor. 

Schedule Time for a Conversation

Once you feel ready to speak to your manager, schedule time to discuss the situation. Come prepared to this conversation so you can support your concerns with documentation.

First, create a list of everything you work on each day. It may be helpful to list projects in order of priority. It’s also helpful to try to pin down how long each task takes. You may find that your manager wasn't aware that a certain task was so time consuming. Or, your manager may suggest a different, faster approach. Communicating all the nitty-gritty details will help with ironing out any problems. 

Have Solutions Ready to Propose

As well as having a clear, thorough list of everything that’s on your plate at work, make sure you come equipped with potential solutions. In other words, you don’t just want to say, “I have too much work on my plate.” Instead, it's best to propose solutions, such as the following:

  • Putting some projects on the back burner: Can deadlines and due dates for some projects shift? That may make your day-to-day work less overwhelming. 
  • Adding new resources: Perhaps there are tools that can help you do more, faster. If you have ideas for helpful resources, mention them during the conversation. 
  • Delegating/drawing on other team members: There may also be other members of staff (or new roles that need to be added) that could help to manage the many responsibilities you’ve taken on. Try putting forward some suggestions, or ask your manager for ideas. 

It will be much easier to resolve the situation if you come prepared with ideas on what could be done to remedy it.

In your conversation with your manager, it can be helpful to keep the focus on quality. Your message to your manager is that you don't mind working hard, but you're concerned that it's not a sustainable pace and that the quality of your work will suffer. 

Keep It Positive

Throughout your conversation with your supervisor, avoid being negative. The idea is that you don’t want to complain but rather to inform your manager about the situation. 

Stay away from criticizing your boss for giving you too much work and also avoid the temptation to compare your workload with that of other people. As you think through what you want to say, keep in mind that it's quite possible your supervisor wasn’t aware you were feeling swamped with work.

Your responsibility at this point is to inform your manager that you have too much work and that the overload has negative consequences. 

For instance, you may say something like, “Because I don't have sufficient time to take care of project XYZ, I’m concerned that my colleague ABC will fall behind and we won’t make the projected deadline.” Or, you might say, “I’ve started catching up on XX tasks on the weekends, but it's amounting to more than five hours each Saturday.”

Be direct, but not combative or emotional, since a hostile attitude isn't helpful for resolving the issue

As a Long-Term Strategy, Always Determine Project Priority

You may find yourself with too many tasks to do in one day—or one week, or one month, or even one quarter. In such a case, it can be helpful to ask your manager to help you prioritize these tasks and projects. Sometimes, it can be obvious what tasks need to be prioritized (say, if another coworker is counting on you to do a task in order for them to make progress). 

Other times, it’s less clear. Your supervisor, however, should have big-picture insight about what work is most important. If you find your work mounting up, share a list of the bigger tasks with your supervisor and ask for guidance about which to tackle first. You can also ask about a project's level of priority when your manager first mentions it to you. 

If you find that your boss thinks everything is a top priority, try asking them to rank your tasks, from one to three, for every project. 

If the conversation goes well and your manager helps you figure out next steps to reduce the quantity of work, don’t forget to express your appreciation. Get tips here for your thank you message.

Keep Track as You Move Forward

Bear in mind that one conversation may not solve a longstanding problem. So take the time to track your hours and the projects you’re working on. 

If need be, schedule a follow-up meeting with your manager to review how the new procedures and processes are working. You may need to adjust workflows again to ensure that everything is going smoothly, and you’re not overwhelmed with work.

Article Sources

  1. Owl Labs. "State of Remote Work Report." Page 3. Accessed Oct. 9, 2020.

  2. Owl Labs. "State of Remote Work Report." Page 3. Accessed Oct. 9, 2020.

  3. FlexJobs. "FlexJobs, Mental Health America Survey: Mental Health in the Workplace." Accessed Oct. 9, 2020.