How to Discuss Being Overwhelmed to Your Manager

How’re you doing today? 

No, really. How are you? 

For a lot of us, the past two years have been intense and scary. There have been so many layers of stress that it’s hard to know where to start when it comes to your to-do list, at work or at home. 

Unfortunately, being overwhelmed and/or burned out can result in making mistakes at work, or missing deadlines, because it’s hard to think clearly. But that’s something your manager should, and needs to, know. This can be a scary concept, but it’ll be better for your well-being and for the productivity of your team to speak up. 

Here’s how to talk with your manager about being overwhelmed or feeling burned out. 

  • Take a look at your to-do list.

    Write down everything you’re working on at the moment. It can just be a project title and, if you have it, a deadline for when your portion of it must be completed. But be sure to list everything — whether it’s an all-the-time responsibility or a specific short-term project. Detail what you’re doing and how you’re spending your day. Writing a list of your tasks helps focus your thoughts on what’s in the works, but it also helps you get a sense of, yes, this is why you feel overwhelmed: You’re being asked to juggle a long list of responsibilities in the same eight-hour workday everyone has. Don’t be surprised if your list is longer than you expect! 

  • Schedule an in-person meeting with your manager.

     It’s better to face these things in-person if you can because so much of our communication is through body language. We can hide stress and nervousness in our voice; we can write around feelings of being frazzled in emails. But talking face-to-face with a person puts everything out there to be seen and acknowledged. Take your new to-do list to the meeting and calmly explain that you’re feeling overwhelmed and want to get some help in order to meet your responsibilities. Talk about shuffling priorities or see if someone else on your team might be able to take a few things off your plate. 

  • Be specific.

    If all of these tasks are things you’ve done before, but maybe they were spread out over a longer period of time, say so. If you’ve had to pick up new projects because someone left or your job title has changed, say so. Be honest and clear about your job today compared with six months or a year ago: Everything has been shifting and you might have picked up tasks that aren’t anything like the rest of your responsibilities and are a far cry from what’s in your job description. Talk with your manager about this in the meeting to try to get some perspective on what’s happening. It’s also possible they don’t know, on a day-to-day basis, just how much you’re being asked to take on. 

  • Be honest.

    Be prepared to go into this meeting with solutions in mind. What can you keep working on and what needs to go? What would make things less stressful for you? What needs to change for things to be workable for you? Do you need to take time off to recalibrate? Have ideas in hand for how to fix the problem — your manager will respect that you’re coming in with solutions and not just open-ended questions without a proposal to fix the issues. 

  • Learn to say no.

    This is probably one of the hardest things someone can do at work, but sometimes we do need to say no in order to protect ourselves and our mental health. Other people do it; so can you! Be polite but firm and explain, briefly, that you are too busy at the moment to be able to pick up a new project. If someone insists, refer to that to-do list and ask them to help you fit this new project in to your priorities. That might be enough to have them reconsider, or it might help you to put a few things on the back burner for a little while. Saying “no” is an act of self-care and self-preservation and can be done in a very respectful way. 

We all get overwhelmed from time to time — it’s normal! If it’s a passing thing, a short break from work, just going outside and getting some fresh air, might be enough to come back clear-headed and ready to go. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you owe it to yourself to find out why and determine a solution to make things better. 

If, after talking with your manager, things don’t get better or, in fact, get worse, it might be time to look for a new job in which you will be treated with more respect. When that time comes, give Debbie’s Staffing a call. We partner with some fantastic companies that are looking for employees just like you! Call Debbie’s Staffing today, and let’s help lighten the load.

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