June 20, 2011

How do I tell my boss I’m overworked?

Filed under: Readers' Forum, Success at Work

In the June 21, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader worries about burnout because the boss has piled on too much work:

I’ve had more and more work piled on me until I’m a bundle of nerves and stress. I like my job a lot, and the pay is good. But, I have now inherited more work than I can handle. I’ve absorbed the workloads of two people who left. I’m only one person and can only do so much in a 16-hour day! (Isn’t it supposed to be 8 hours?) Help!

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

Even people with a good work ethic must sometimes tell management, “This is too much!” This goes for top executives, for professional staffers and even for blue collar workers.

Part of your job is to tell your boss the truth: The work you do requires more manpower. As long as you accept more work, the company will continue to heap it on. It’s their fault for expecting so much, but it’s your fault for letting them think you can handle it.

Prepare a plan. Outline:

  • The work that needs to be done,
  • The rough cost of manpower and tools required to do it,
  • An estimate of the profit produced by the work,
  • The relationship between headcount and “output” (16 hours days are not allowed),
  • The work you want to cherry-pick for yourself.

Don’t tell your boss you’re having a problem. Explain that you have “the work” organized now, and show your plan, including the requirements for additional staff. No complaints; just the facts. Don’t be afraid to do the job your way. It is your responsibility to explain what needs to be done to handle the work effectively, but not to work 16-hour days.

If you don’t deal with this now, you will probably face overwork at your next job. The sign of a good worker is dealing with the demands of the job, not taking on the functions of other workers yourself.

A caution: Some companies prefer to kill an employee with work rather than invest in doing the job right. If this describes your company, be prepared to start looking for a new one. I hope your employer is ethical. You owe it to yourself to have a job that’s reasonable.

(Note: When you get to heaven, St. Peter doesn’t give you extra points for having worked yourself to death.)

First it feels like an opportunity: Your boss seems to be offering you more authority. But it turns out to be merely more responsibility and work. What started out as a chance to prove what you could do, has turned into your boss expecting you to do more than you can possibly do. Is there a way out? Let’s talk about getting over-worked, and burning out. Can this be turned into success?

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22 Comments on “How do I tell my boss I’m overworked?”
By Chris
June 21, 2011 at 6:36 am

I think something else you have to be prepared for is when management says it can’t secure additional manpower for whatever reason.

In that case, you need to either prioritize the work and explain what can’t be done or, even better, ask management to prioritize the work for you. After all, isn’t that part of what management is paid for?

Such action may force some clarity on the situation. Your boss may then realize that either more staff is needed or some work needs to be dropped. (This may be a good time to also determine if you need to fire a few customers.)

If not, then you’ve done what any honest employee should do and can leave with a clear conscience.

By Ric
June 21, 2011 at 9:26 am

This is a common problem that I’ve noticed almost everywhere that I’ve worked. Invariably, there is a “go to person” that seems to get things done. So more work is given because that person delivers. It does not mean your boss is bad. It is likely that he or she is the “go to” person for their boss. Her boss leans on her and she, in turn, leans on you to get everything done. The reality is that you both need to learn how to manage the situation.

One of the best things you can do is learn to develop an accurate estimate of the hours it will take for each project/task. That you can use in your discussion with your boss.

Also, it would probably help to discuss what the realistic expectations for the number of hours worked per week (if you’re salaried). You will have to decide for yourself what your limit is.

Perhaps there is a way for the two of you to develop a strategy on how to deal with the increasing demands on you both.

By joseph jackson
June 21, 2011 at 9:29 am

I have encountered this in more than one situation, but always one thing in common – privately owned businesses where you are working directly for the owner.

Business owners often work extraordinarily hard, setting the bar very high. They seem to forget that noone other than the business owners have the same ‘payoff’ and therefore motivation to work the same way (not to mention in my particular examples the employers were paying below market rate, so there was a double-whammy there). In the most interesting case, I was employed through a management buyout and saw first-hand how the attitudes to work (and more importantly, their expectations of you) changed overnight when people went from ‘workers’ to ‘owners’.

So Nick, while I think your advice is appropriate for many situations it does rely on having a manager who is rational – in which case your caution may apply.

By John Zabrenski
June 21, 2011 at 9:32 am

Failing to say enough is enough can be fatal. I lost a brother in law last January to a sudden heart attack. According to my sister, he was working 12/7 at an internet retail business from early late October to just before he died in mid January. She said he was becoming a husk of a person and begged him to quit. They had sufficient money to live on even if he didn’t work for a while. He said he wanted to leave in good graces and would resign in March after the rush was over. Then they were going to move and he would be too far to commute.
On his last trip to work, he started to feel ill after driving a few miles and returned home. He went into the bedroom and fell face down on the bed. According to the cornor, he died almost instantly from a massive heart attack probably brought on by continual and excessive stress.
So the question is “Is this job worth dying for?”

By Nick Corcodilos
June 21, 2011 at 9:41 am

@joseph jackson: I think the advice is particularly appropriate in situations like what you describe. If you have an irrational manager, present your rational case. If he doesn’t get it, move on. You did your best. The point isn’t always to solve the manager’s problem – it can be to solve yours.

By Don Harkness
June 21, 2011 at 10:13 am

Nick great idea in organizing what one does into a work plan, as it shows the most important thing…you’re in control of the work. I would have added the one thing Chris did, is to priortize it. That’s key. Actually that’s the boss’s job but since this person’s doing the work he/she most likely has the best feel for how it all plays out.
Once you have a prioritized work list, you have a work portfolio. Given a person’s capacity (let’s say you’re a trooper and that’s 55 hours a week) you now have the cut line on the portfolio. Everything above the line is doable without killing you and fits your acceptable load, everything below is undoable or personally risky to one’s health and life quality. (your family really would like to see you on a daily basis) this is fair and business like. a very professional way of showing the boss, visually, the actual work load. And prioritization is useful with a work portfolio. if something’s below the line that the boss feels is vitally important and MUST be done, then he can move it above the line…but..your take will be then move something above the line below. trade off, negotiate, and plan.
You’ve hit the nail on the head. If you keep doing it, mgmt will keep pouring it on, in fact will institutionalize it in their work planning and commitments. If you want something done about it, in my experience mgmt has to experience some pain..NO is a good surgical tool to do so.
One of my bosses had a saying so true. “They” don’t like to know about problems, because then they’ll have to do something about it. So As a # of people said, if you get an irrational response, conflict avoidance etc. you’ll have to move on.
Assuming the positive side exists, you may be surprised that your manager doesn’t want to kill you, and values you. They may simply be assuming that since you didn’t say anything and the work was getting done it wasn’t a problem. I learned that as a manager when I kept handing things off to one of my engineers to do until one day he told me he was at overload. If I knew I was pushing him to the edge I’d have stopped.
Which leads to another point about burnout workplaces. Don’t assume mgmt knows the details about who does exactly what. When they cut back a person and shift the load, they frequently don’t know exactly what that “load” is. So when you present that plan…it’s detailed and in their face. You have to deal with it.
And no one’s mentioned a mgmt tendency..conflict avoidance and laziness. It’s so much easier to keep handing work to someone who they know has the ethic to get it done, rather than someone they have to ride herd on…and avoid the conflict and hassle of getting rid of them.
So when you present a plan, you blow all that stuff away, and mgmt can see the issue, and will have to do something about it. and you’ll get a good feel if they really intend to and act accordingly

By Suzanne C.
June 21, 2011 at 11:38 am

“A caution: Some companies prefer to kill an employee with work rather than invest in doing the job right.”

This mentality is the start of a downward spiral that ultimately leads to the loss of organizational talent and knowledge.

Sure, experienced workers can always do more. They have more capacity because they know all of the shortcuts. Shortcuts mean they are skipping steps and not documenting the work, they are not sharing their knowledge of processes so no one is learning.

Not only have you taken on the work of two employees, you are not developing the next generation of workers. Even if they hire 10 more talented workers tomorrow, you are most likely not in an optimum position to teach them anything.

The best way to deploy existing talent is to use it to develop new talent, not to burden them with more work. Human capital is no different from any other business asset, you wouldn’t spend your dollars without thinking about how they will pay off in the future, why would you risk burning out and losing your talent?

Nick is right; you have a duty to speak up, for your own sake as well as the organization’s. Sometimes the strongest link in a chain ends up weakening the others.

That’s the organizational perspective, from your perspective; you will never be able to advance if you can’t replace yourself.

Knowledge and skill can be power, but sometimes it’s just a trap.

By Francis
June 21, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Love your blog. I read your article “How do I tell my boss I’m overworked?”

More than a questions this is a comment.

My boss says that if an employee comes to him and says she/he’s overworked or has too much on his plate, that this employee has no use to him. He says the most valuable employee is the one that has bandwidth to do more stuff and that if an employee is complaining of being overcommitted, it’s time to outsource his job.

In some cases, I do agree with him in that employees don’t know how to plan their time and manage their priorities and end up overcommitting their time and being overworked. But there are those employees who really know how to manage their time and priorities and yet end up overworked and burned.

Ideally, the employee should work with his/her manager to mitigate this situation and make sure it is not the rule but the exception. Unfortunately, some employees seem to think that if they don’t act like troopers their job is in jeopardy, and some (bad) managers either knowingly take advantage of this or, even worse, let this go on without concern due to their lack of management skills.

By MaryBeth
June 21, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Reading this article and everyone’s responses is déja vu and a perfect description of my last job (I’m unemployed now). I was the only employee in my dept. I worked at a large state university and while there were other staff members in my dept., there were none who worked for my specific dept. within the bigger dept. I did everything and the job was manageable while the program was small. Then I grew the program (increased the number of students enrolled in it by 80%, increased the number of faculty teaching–had to, to accommodate the growing number of students) and there was still no help. I did exactly what Nick suggested because this had worked with a previous employer, but at my last job it didn’t work. There was a skeleton staff doing more and more work, staff were being let go due to budget concerns and due to a new person in management who didn’t know how to treat employees or how to manage people so the work got done without employees having to bring a cot and a hot pot to the office and work 18 hour days, plus bring work home, work thru lunch, etc. Management didn’t care. Neither one of last 2 direct bosses gave a damn. I didn’t whine, but I believed (hoped) that they would be reasonable. If the work had to get done and I was putting in 60+ hours per week and still the projects were landing on my at a faster rate than I could clear them, something had to change. I scheduled meetings with a list of the tasks and a proposal for getting them. One told me she had no time for me; the other didn’t even read it before he handed it back and told me to figure it out. I tried asking them to prioritize and got “everything” and “figure it out” (and don’t bother me). I understood that their boss didn’t always give them any kind of reasonable amount of time to get a project or report done (as in the report is due by noon today and I get an email at 11:50 demanding stats to which I no access and requesting said stats meant a 5 business-day turn-around period), then screamed at for not being able to produce the stats. When I suggested the remedy to this problem was to write a memo to the appropriate dept. (the one that had the stats) telling them to give me access, that was shot down. Talk about doing things the hard way. I often felt that I had to do my job with both hands tied behind my back. Previous bosses to the last two did give me the support and tools to do the job and were more understanding.

The current philosophy is that employees are fungible and better replaced by temps. I worked thru more lunches and put in so much overtime (we weren’t paid o.t. nor were we officially allowed to take comp. time) My former employer was found to be in violation of the FLSA a few years ago–many of their professional staff were routinely working far above the 37 12 hours per week they were paid for, so they complied for a while, then new management got careless (and didn’t care) again. It is true that some employees haven’t a clue how to plan their time or how to prioritize, but the ones who got things done did…and they still burned out. Those of us who tried to make things better were forced out or let go.
I’m not afraid of hard work nor of speaking up to the boss, but I think it really depends upon the culture of your workplace, and, equally important, what kind of a boss you have. If you have a boss who doesn’t see you as a human being but as a thing/blob that you throw work at regardless of whether it is that person’s job or not, who is a micromanager or who doesn’t interact with you at all–leaves it to you to decide without so much as giving you a hint as to what his priorities are or what his boss’ priorities are, then the job becomes undoable. I was doing the job of 6 people. My replacement (a temp), I am now told, is complaining about the amount of time she puts in for which she isn’t compensated, for the lack of training and total lack of guidance, etc. All they did was change widgets from me to the temp; what needed to be done was to change the job.

By Fast Eddie
June 21, 2011 at 7:24 pm

The solution I used is I organize the work I am going to do today, and after my 8 hours, I go home to be in the next workday to continue where I left off the previous day. If any one says anything, I tell them I will get to it next time. If they press any further and explicitly say any thing about more than 8 hours, I say that I am not interested in working any more time today. I get to it tomorrow.

By LT
June 21, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Fast Eddie reminds me of an approached that was offered to departments / manager who found themselves with less and less: less budget, less personnel less support … do less with less. We have enough to do x, not x+y. If management wants x+y, they will need to get up off the money pile, take a hit in “shareholder value” executive bonus pay, etc, and spend to get it.

By MaryBeth
June 21, 2011 at 9:38 pm

@Fast Eddie and @LT: those are common-sense, logical approaches, as is what Nick suggests. And, those solutions assume that your boss and management will also be reasonable. The tricky part is what to do when you:
1.) don’t have a reasonable boss, and/or:
2.) management doesn’t give a damn (just wants all of the work done/stay until you finish it mentality).

If you have a reasonable, humane boss and/or management, and you lay out the solution (because neither bosses nor management ever want to hear about any problems) for the them, then they can either priorize for you or if all of the tasks must be done, then get you some help be it by commandeering an employee from another dept., hiring a temp to help you thru the project or busy period, or hiring a permanent employee if the extra work looks like it is permanent (i.e., when I worked in insurance, we were always busier during tax season and just before New Year’s; we pitched in for other depts., management hired temps to help out with bigger projects).

If you (as the employee) aren’t the problem (i.e., it isn’t because you can’t manage your time) and you’ve looked at the work and you just can’t get it done either without logging significantly more time on it, and you’ve presented your arguments and asked for help and still the answer is “I don’t care. You stay until you finish.” and this is happening on an ever more frequent basis, then what? Do you quit? Do you wait until your boss gets mad at you for not being able to do everything even though you’re coming in early, working thru lunch, staying late, taking work home, coming in on weekends?

I think it really depends upon the culture of the particular workplace, on your boss, and on management. If you don’t come across as a whiner, if you put in the extra hours, pull your weight, help out when there’s a big project or deadline, then things go back to “normal”, that’s one thing. I have never minded working longer hours if there was a big project but the issue is when that “big project” becomes a big project every day or several big projects every day and you’re working more and later every day. That’s where the burn-out really comes in. And even more so if your boss doesn’t care. That’s where I was with my last job. More and more work meant more and more time on the job, no help, no interest in helping me make it easier to do the job but to ensure that the dept. ran smoothly. If you have a scatter-brained boss who doesn’t give you a big project until 5 pm and tells you he wants it by 7 am the next day and is the kind of person who doesn’t take Fast Eddie’s response well (bullying, screaming, threatening you, etc.), then what? In my case, oftentimes it was lack of planning on my boss’ part and sometimes it was lack of planning on his boss’ part. And God forbid that anyone tell the dean that it wasn’t possible to get the year’s stats AND write the report in 10 minutes. If the culture and attitude is such that no one (in authority over you) wants to hear it, that they just expect everything to do be done AS IF there were 6 people in the dept., not one, then there’s a problem.

By Underemployed and Clinically Depressed in the Midwest
June 23, 2011 at 12:14 am

As usual, many thoughtful comments on a difficult subject.
The company I had devoted my worklife to for nearly thirty years was bought mid-2008. I was bounced out early 2009, and fell into clinical depression just a few weeks after. As I was going through therapy and adjusting my meds, I had worked up the courage to check in with my former subordinates about six months later. At that time, my former second in command had emphatically stated that not a week went by that someone did not make the statement that I was the lucky one (at that time, I was the only one bounced out.).
Since I was still in the throes of severe psychic pain, I was not comforted by the statement, though I had a glimmer intellectually that my demise might be a good thing.
About a year after I was severed, and still jobless, a human resources lady joined our work search roundtable. She made the brash statement that the other unemployed people sitting around the table were indeed at an advantage being out of work. We were accumulating much needed rest—the people who remained working were getting very tired because they were understaffed. I also noticed around this time that a church buddy who was still working at my former place was looking more and more beat up. The place we worked was a distribution center. Long hours there are not spent at a desk—it’s a physically demanding profession. Being on his feet for 12-14 hours, 6 days a week was wearing him down.
Still, this was little comfort to me.
The same friend a year later, still looking very tired but not as badly beat up, reports to me that the CEO of the company that bought the company I worked for was looking very tired.
Just a few weeks after this report, in May of this year (2011), I bumped into one of my more physically stronger former crew members in the grocery store in my ‘hood.
I’m not quite sure to this day whether he looked like hell, or death warmed over, but I definitely remember thinking that he must be honoring Zombie Appreciation Month (which is May, if you didn’t already know).
It was at that point I began to remember my own physical and mental deterioration after the buyout. Even if I had not been severed, I don’t really want to hazard a guess as to how long I would have lasted. I finally began to appreciate the opportunity to reclaim my brain and recoup my body.
As nasty as clinical depression is, there are far nastier versions of mental malfunction out there, and coupled with my defective body in a physically demanding profession, I’m sure that I would have been hospitalized for something within a year or so of the buyout.
I’m now in my third year of recovery, and employed, and monitoring my physical and metaphysical condition very carefully as I continue to search for work to match my skills and experience.
My advice for overwork?
Get into your family doctor asap to have your vitals checked. If you cannot pace yourself, at least pace your time off to give yourself a chance to at least partially recharge.
Stay close to your family and friends—they’ll be the first to notice if you are getting too fried. Don’t be afraid to talk to them, sharing your fears and frustrations.
Knowing that the current business climate is totally wrong may not be comforting to you, but being able to separate their insanity from your difficulties could prove helpful.
When I’m interviewing for work, and the hiring manager starts sputtering about “doing more with less”, I cut the interview short with the suggestion that it is impossible to more with less; that you can only do more with more. That if they are not going to give me the resources to do excellent work for them, I will surely disappoint them. Doing more with less is not my modus operandi.
I wish I could remember where I saw that line, but I know that I saw it recently, and am making it my new keynote.
Somewhere out there, there are companies who desire to do more with more. They are rare, but they are hiding somewhere—probably in plain sight.
I hope you find yours soon.

By Scott
June 23, 2011 at 2:41 am

While I understand where @Fast Eddie is coming from, I was at a company where nearly everyone on the project stayed for (a company paid for) dinner every night. One person left on time, because of a car pool. When they had to find a person to be marked as a poor performer because of company guidelines, this person got targeted.
I quit, still on my own two feet, not long after this.
I have two suggestions. First, when you are fully loaded and the boss gives you something else to do, ask which of your tasks you should drop. Make sure to list all the things you have. Bosses tend to forget about stuff which is getting done well.
Second, there is a paper which shows that after about 10 hours of overtime a normal employee makes so many mistakes, because of tiredness, that they are doing 40 hours of work but getting paid for 50. I know that no one likes to admit making mistakes, but we’re not supermen so we do. Track quality for a 40 hour week versus an 80 hour week. You’ll be surprised.

By Mary
June 23, 2011 at 10:16 am

My husband’s company once had a project that went overtime for 9 long months. Everyone stayed till ‘dinner’ time (which the company paid for) but was at 7:00 or 8:00 pm. Then they worked till midnight or later.

At my insistence, my husband worked until 5:00 and then picked up the kids at daycare. I fed him a hot nutritious dinner and he kissed the kids goodnight. Then he went back to work until whenever (sometimes 11:00 pm, sometimes 4:00 am).

Because I insisted that he eat a hot nutrious dinner every night and spend at least an hour with us, he was able to come into work at around 9:00 am most mornings and work the insane schedule the rest of the time.

At the company Christmas party, the CEO, CFO and their wives asked me about my dinner policy. They were upset that my husband ‘wasn’t working as hard’. I explained that if I fed my husband a good dinner and he had a short break he always worked hard and showed up to work in the morning and he was productive. To which the wives of the CEO and CFO turned to their husbands and told them that I had a good idea and next time they were going to do the same.

By the way, I learned this trick in Europe. I was working on a project that was on a miserable time frame. But we always went out for dinner for 2 hours and we weren’t allowed to discuss work for those 2 hours.

But be it as it may, I agree with Nick. Come up with a plan. Talk it over with the boss. Then stick to it. And look for another job.

By Nick Corcodilos
June 24, 2011 at 10:53 am

When I posted this Q&A, it didn’t occur to me that there would be such an outpouring of stories of abuse at work. It’s abuse. I don’t accept the idea that working 10+ hours a day is “dedication.” It’s a sign of mismanagement. And in many circumstances, it’s illegal.

MaryBeth’s stark description of workplace abuse needs to be reported to her state’s department of labor. While I admire Mary’s no-nonsense “dinner at home” policy, it’s another example of appeasement of the corporate appetite for more and more work. Working til 11pm? Til 4am? Few people are paid handsomely enough for such output.

LT’s suggestions might seem to be those of a corporate malcontent who shirks duty. But LT is correct: The day ends at some reasonable time, and the employee goes home. Work is picked up again the next day, and if there is too much work to be done, management must figure out how to get it done legally and reasonably.

While short-term bursts of long hours for special projects are part of work life in some environments, no company succeeds very long if it turns this into the normal mode of operation. People just leave. Either in a box, or in a straitjacket, or to go to a better-behaved competitor.

Unfortunately, today’s media often celebrates insane work schedules, and confers a badge of honor on those who work them. If I see one more advertisement for Blackberries and iPhones that touts the wonders of being able to do your work 24X7 — I’m gonna puke. Convenience is one thing; abuse is another.

If ever there was a conspiracy of management against labor, this is it. I’m not a big fan of unions, but this is what gives rise to them.

By don harkness
June 24, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Nick you covered it pretty well. If you hadn’t included the reality and necessity of those short bursts for fire fights I would have said you’d gone over the top.
You find a lot such environments in the hi-tech world where people pride themselves on having sleeping bags hanging on the back of their doors..if they even have doors anymore, particularly in start-ups. It depends on what duration a burst is. In a start up, or a fast growth company, it may be a year.
When I started out, the work was somewhat cyclical, like waves. you’d work on a product, it would start up slowly then build up to frenzy until your project was done and released. since there was a heavy element of development and unknown “done” wasn’t well predicted and the teams would have to bear down. After release, you’d kick back, catch up on something resembling a life and off you’d go again, slowly going up the ramp again. If resourced right there’d be multiple teams engaging in different projects so the larger business unit was continual producing new product relasess
I never felt abused, nor did colleagues because they were doing something they loved to do in most cases. If not you got out of the zoo.
I think you hit closer to home when you noted those kinds of horror stories as examples of mismanagement. Laziness and inconsideration. That’s when management institutionalizes dependency on insane working hours into commitments and schedules. filling the plates up too full and under resourcing (real men multitask). Throw in fear of job loss and you’ve got the perfect formula for a dysfunctional work life.
Of course upper manaement also adopts a total inability to recognize the usefulness of a simple management tool…the word “no”. When a person or team tells you what you theoretically pay them to tell you, that no, a schedule or task is undoable because there’s not enough time in a (reasonable) or even an unreasonable day to do it.
Some of my memorable horses laughs from back in the day come from executives who claim they want an “honest schedule”. no padding, tell them what it really takes. I’ve seen teams practically lock themselves away for a couple of weeks hammering out what we knew was a well thought out, risk assesses schedule, deliver it to mgmt, with the key info (release date). to be told the date they can live with, which was a lot earlier. You’d think, “you bastards, you knew all along what you wanted, why not just say so”. Because they want to go through the sham of “buy in”. They’d counter truth with what’s called a “stretch schedule” which means I know you’re telling me it can’t be done, but try and if you don’t make it I’ll be forgiving. This scheduling model produces a big balloon full of BS that floats upward through management layers telling each more senior layer what they want to hear. This becomes the business model for a burnout world

I work for a small company headed by a very young President. I credit him with the genuine goal of a work/life balance. It’s not warm/fuzzy touchy feely stuff. It’s simply good business, based on his belief that you should be able to conduct your business in a 40 hour work week, as an individual and as a company. Yes there will be those bursts of hyperactivity, but they are meant to be exceptions, not the rule. To him Overtime can be necessary, but it also can be a sign that mgmt is not managing, just working in firefight mode and not effectively working smart. We don’t want attrition, we want people to stick around. We’re not there yet, but if you want sane, safe and enjoyable work that takes into account the need for life outside of work, you have to manage your business that way.
Any bozo can throw intimidated people at a workload, that doesn’t take any brains, and it’s not leadership.
We want good managers and good managers manage the work environment.

By MaryBeth
June 26, 2011 at 6:49 pm

@Nick and @Don Harkness:

Nick, your second comment sums it up nicely. You’re right–it is abuse. What happens is that you’re in it and even though it doesn’t feel right, you tolerate it because you think it can’t last much longer, or that someone else will be stepping in (this is the case in academia, in which faculty rotate taking on administrative roles as Dept. Chair, Assoc. Deans, GPDs, etc. They are handsomely compensated for it–some get as much as $30,000 per year above their regular salaries and get to cut down on the number of classes they teach while the staff assigned to them don’t get so much as a step raise; staff do most of the work anyways as the faculty often don’t know what do when they take on these roles).

When I worked in the private sector (insurance industry) our busiest times of the year were tax season (January-late April) and end of the year (people were purchasing annuities in late December in order to write them off on their taxes), but we were warned about those busy times, management planned for them, and I only remember working longer hours (and getting paid for them) a couple of times. Management brought in temps, commandeered people from other depts. who could be spared, then when things slacked off, we were farmed out to the depts that needed help, and we all just pitched in and got things done. Management also treated us to lunches, brunches, coffee/snack breaks, brought in masseuses, told us to get a massage, to take a break, etc. because we were all working very hard. It made me feel like we were all part of a team, working together, and especially that management recognized what each of us did and appreciated it. That’s smart. And I was fortunate–the crew that worked there was one of the best groups of people I have ever worked with.

Nick, I know that you’re not a fan of unions; I see the necessity of them. If you had asked me about how I felt about unions when I worked in insurance, I would have said that I didn’t see the need for them because my employer was good, but that I realized not all employers treated their employees well, and that’s why there are unions. All it takes is for you to work for someone, and it can be in the public sector too–these “mismanagement” problems are NOT limited to the private sector–who doesn’t treat you decently, and for you to watch one good worker after another leave or be targeted and forced out. If you’re lucky, you may already have a (good) union; if you’re not lucky, you may have a union that blindly does what HR says, and HR always always ALWAYS does whatever management wants, illegal or not, fair or not. That was the case in my last job. We had a union, and when I went to my union rep. and described what was going on, he said that they would have to check with HR first, that HR would then talk to management (in my dept.), and he warned me that HR always backs management and they always back HR. I asked him what was the point of having a union if they rubber-stamp whatever HR says and HR does whatever management wants? Isn’t the whole point of having union so that the union helps the employees? I was only one of a long line of very good employees in that dept. to quit or be forced out. In one case, my boss let go of a woman who was working more than 80 hours per work, travelling for work, running conferences and open houses for prospective students and alumni, etc. Her father died and the boss wouldn’t give her time off to go to the funeral. (This same boss wouldn’t let me take my vacation time–my complaint re this issue, filed with the union was still pending 4+ years after the initial filing when I left.) The worker was let go because “she didn’t have enough to do”. She was so overwhelmed and stressed out. She fought it, management won. Her duties (which supposedly didn’t exist, thus justifying her dismissal) were reallocated to one of my co-workers. Our boss got the salary of the worker who let go, my co-worker got work of the employee who was let go. He got burned out and eventually quit. The person who took over his job thought he would be stepping into a professional job, and when he took over, he learned that his salary had been reduced by over $9,000 because when my co-worker left, my boss and “management” demotted the job from professional to classified. She (the boss) took the difference in the salary, picking up another almost $10,000, while the next cog in the machine got saddled with the duties. The duties didn’t change. Once again, neither management (management did whatever this boss wanted) nor HR nor either of the unions on campus (one union was for classified workers, the other for professional workers) would challenge her. He, too, burned out and quit to take a lateral job (job for the same salary in another dept. just to get away from that particular boss), which is looked at as a no-no but I could understand why.

Earlier this year I watched the news covering the uproar in Wisconsin about unions and the governor. Yes, some unions don’t do much other than take dues and like any institution, there are problems that need to be fixed. But…unions did do a lot of good. You can thank unions for weekends off, 40 hour work-weeks, paid vacations, paid sick time, paid holidays, etc. Do a little research and read about working conditions in the earlier part of the 20th century, and I think most people would agree that unions improved the lives of working people.

It is all about balance–neither unions NOR management getting greedy or abusive. Most people I know, myself included, want to work. I also want to be treated with respect and dignity, and to have my work recognized. I’m a hard worker, willing to go the extra mile. I’m a self-starter. I don’t think I’m unreasonable. I just want to find an employer who feels the same way.

By rkc
June 27, 2011 at 2:12 am

For me, the issue was that I wasn’t hearing what my boss was saying about his priorities. Essentially, I was told that quality was irrelevant. Quantity and kicking the can down the road so the problems occurred later (after it was too late to change course) was what he wanted.

Once I finally heard what he was saying, I decided to just ignore it and set my own priorities for my part of the organization. Now, I am criticized (from above and outside my little fiefdom) because I have invested too much in the people in my organization, I have too many people crammed into offices, and I haven’t filled out my TPS and other reports (and yes, no kidding, I was actually chastised for not submitting a “TPS report”). But, I don’t care. We are doing the right work, in the right way and it is recognized by people I care about within the organization.

However, all things change and re-organization is coming. We will see where I land. But wherever it is, it will be solidly on my feet.

By lp
June 27, 2011 at 8:47 pm

Nick, did you see the new Ladders scam? $2,500 for a guaranteed job. http://www.theladders.com/signature

By 老板:我已不堪重负! | William Wang
July 4, 2011 at 10:48 pm

[...] Ask the Headhunter在6月有一篇文章”How do I tell my boss I’m overworked?“,Corcodilos替一位一肩担下2位离职员工工作量,每天至少工作16小时的绝望员工做了精彩回答。 [...]

By Emi
December 20, 2013 at 12:57 pm

I am so overworked that I truly feel they are going to kill me and don’t give a damn.

I work in an NHS hospital and time and time again express that the work load is beyond reason as have colleagues.

Other wards have more patient.nurse ratios than ours, not only this but over and over again we are short staffed.

A good example is this morning, a 12 hour night shift, hand over tine to the nest shift, meaning there is only me and 14 patients, with call bells going off all over the place. There are bays and cubicle rooms, so is not like I am in one ward and able to see everyone. There are confused patients who are falls risks, a diarrhea and vomiting bug, so when a patient asks for help they need it Now. On top of that there’s the observations and blood sugar monitoring, and general requests for drinks etc.

I now after three nights (tonight is the fourth), feel exhausted, depressed, ill and close to breaking down.

I repeatedly asked for help this morning and when I finally raised my voice among the hand over racket was put down by a oh happy Christmas to you` not said directly to me but at the others, is as if I am a stupid pain.

I care about the patients and is shocking how badly they are treated by the NHS.

So the morning ended with one patient left on a bed pan, another trying to climb out of bed, a huge falls risk, another deciding he can’t wait any more so pooing all over the floor and commode, the observations not finished and me dragging the offending colleague who always gas a ready put down to the scene of the mess and declaring I am now going home * (was end of shift), and leaving her to clean the mess up when normally I would have stick it out till things were finished, as most of the staff do.

My life feel worthless, I have time for nothing but work, washing my uniforms and more work, 13 hour shifts during the days and 12 at night are destroying me, I would earn more working on a supermarket till but just cant find another job, tho I have a degree and used to love my work, not in the NHS!

The wages are so low (I earned more 25 years ago), life is a continuous struggle.

I have threatened to go to the Care Commission, but if any of you have read the British papers even they are corrupt, I have spoke with the matron, the Ward sister and so forth nothing ever changes.

Is it ever worth it….

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