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Difficult Conversations | How to Tell Your Manager You Have Too Much Work to Do

A bomb next to a pile of papers.

Some conversations are never easy to have, like telling your friend they have an entire bed of spinach wedged in their front teeth. If you do tell your friend, you do your best to not embarrass them by sticking to the facts and giving them solutions for weeding the garden from their mouth. The same thinking applies to difficult conversations at work, specifically, telling your boss you have too much work to do. The best way to ensure you can lighten your load is to frame the conversation and provide alternatives.

Framing the conversation 

Telling your manager you have too much on your plate may not be easy, but it is necessary. Without letting it be known you need more time or cannot handle the load, you’ll be left to figure it out alone. The stress that ensues will decrease the quality of your work. When you have too much to do, your manager loses too.

So how do you tell your manager you need to lighten your workload? First, understand that your mindset going into the conversation is just as important as what you say. Consider these three guidelines for having that conversation.

  1. Control your emotions. An emotional outburst could lead to comments like, “I can’t do all these things!” or “The amount of work I have is ridiculous, what am I supposed to do?” Neither of these comments, no matter how true they feel, will enable you or your boss to find a solution. Instead, focus on what your work situation is. Be able to answer the questions, “What are you working on now?” and “Where are you with your projects?”
  2. Gather specific information. When explaining to your manager what you are working on, talk about the tasks and actions that are required to get the job done. Also give clear estimates for how long it will take to finish them. Presenting a clear picture of what’s on your plate will help you and your supervisor work together to figure out how to best support you and get the work completed.
  3. Express concerns about quality. Letting your manager know that you are concerned about the quality of your projects demonstrates that you remain committed to doing good work, but are unable to reach the high standards when you’re spread too thin.

Providing alternatives

Now that you’ve identified where the problems are, it’s time to think of ideas for what can be done. While it is important to frame the conversation as stated above, it’s also crucial that you offer solutions for getting the work finished that is overwhelming you. Without providing alternatives, there is no clear way for you to be relieved from stress and for the projects to be completed. How can you accomplish both end goals? Consider these three common alternatives.

  1. Discuss new deadlines. One reason you might feel overwhelmed is because your projects have bottle-necked and are due at the same time. Ask your manager if there are any projects deadlines that can be extended and decide on a new due date.
  2. Ask for support. Being overwhelmed with a given task could mean you need some support in completing it. Think about who in your office you could collaborate with to get the work done.
  3. Consider delegating to someone else. If there are no other solutions and you really are tapped out on a project, it could be time to see if anyone else might be better suited to take some of your work. Workshop with your manager if there is anyone else that might have the necessary skills and resources to pick up where you left off on the project.

At the end of the conversation, express your gratitude for your manager helping you figure out a solution to your workload. As difficult as it is to have this talk, it is important to demonstrate that you are actively ensuring the work will be completed and not fall to the wayside.

How do you deal with a heavy workload?

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by Aaron McCoy

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