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How to tell your boss to quit swamping you with too much work

Updated on April 26, 2012

I've seen it before. Companies will often work a good horse to death, and particularly today with low work ethics commonplace among co-workers, and corporations trying to minimize staff.

What you are having, though, is not a work-based problem. It is a boundaries-based problem, and it can be resolved with assertiveness. (Actually I don't know how backwards your specific company is - it may ultimately have to be resolved with a lawsuit, but either way you come out ahead.)

You presumably signed on as an employee with a contract. You were compensated for performing certain duties, and your workload has begun to increase. I'm guessing that your paycheck hasn't seen the same kind of spontaneous increases to go along with that.

The first thing to do is be open, direct, and communicative with your immediate superior. Also, polite... but do remember that you're not the one who's doing something wrong here. Depending on the kind of person he is (let's say it's a "he", here), he may try to shift the blame onto you as though you weren't a good worker. Remain calm and polite, but directly correct him on that point if he tries to make it.

You may want to schedule a mutually-convenient time to bring this up with him in private. This will tend to make him feel less awkward and vulnerable. Having him less defensive is good. You don't want him getting jumpy on you, and retaliating against you where there's no cause to. Open the conversation pleasantly, make eye contact, smile when appropriate, and speak clearly. Make your choice of words plainly understandable, and try to avoid the possibility that he will mistake your conversation with him for an argument. Let him know that you've been having a problem recently, and that you hope the two of you can resolve it together. (This is not only encouraging and positive, it has the added benefit of causing ideas of where you could take this if you both can't resolve it together to linger in his mind, after the conversation is over.) Calmly explain to him that your workload has been increasing recently, and either that it is beyond the scope of your position and abilities - if the problem is that the workload is too much - or that it is beyond the scope of your position and compensation - if the problem is that you don't mind the work, but you're not being compensated appropriately. Whichever it is in your case, explain that to him in plain English, citing either that expecting that volume of work from you is not going to be feasible, or that expecting that amount of compensation for it is neither equitable, nor within your current job description. Which of the two is the case will allow you to proceed by giving him a Workable Compromise, involving shifting some of your other work to someone else if it's that vital that you take on the new assignments, ceasing to increase your workload as he has been, or by increasing your compensation and/or position. Be certain of what the problem is, specifically - workload or compensation - before you approach him, and know how you intend to proceed.

The problem may be that he is treating you inappropriately, by assigning the workload of others onto you. If the problem is that you feel degraded by his treatment, you will want to point out privately that you don't feel it is appropriate, instead. Make sure you phrase it as an I Statement: "...and I don't feel that is appropriate. Do you?" And then give him a chance to speak. The beauty of I Statements is that they are nearly always something you're within your rights to say, provided you aren't rude, disrespectful, or antagonistic. There's no Contest of Wills here. You are simply asserting your basic rights, and communicating how you feel to him to resolve the situation.

He may attempt to unfairly minimize the situation, in which case you can repeat the problem or clarify it in more detail, so that trivializing it does not work. While maintaining respect and never assaulting his dignity, you must hold him to task in the conversation. He may instead come up with a dozen excuses. (You will probably be better able to anticipate his response than I am.) That would be a good opportunity to use the Broken Record technique:

You: "...but the workload has been increasing beyond what is reasonable and feasible, and I need to resolve that with you."

Him: "Well, it's just been that lately we've been under so many deadlines, and of course the coffee maker broke down last Thursday, so naturally we'll all just have to live with this."

You: "I understand your concerns, but the workload has been increasing beyond what is reasonable and feasible, and I need to resolve that with you."

Him: "Well, it's just for the next few months or so, December at the latest, until we hire someone to take on some of the workload..."

You: "I understand your predicament, but the workload has been increasing beyond what is reasonable and feasible, and I need to resolve that with you."

...

...and so on and so on. Don't let him dodge the point, and don't let him guilt trip you about resolving an unfair situation. You'll get it straightened out. If not with him, then with his superior, or his superior's superior, or with the C.E.O. and your attorney.

A blessing in disguise... or disgust

Before you take this approach, though, you may want to consider your workplace situation carefully. This may not be what it seems to be. Unless you know of another reason why he is giving you other peoples' workload, he may be getting ready to give someone else there the axe, and be making sure that you can cover their projects (with someone else taking on your workload). This kind of problem is also common in the case of an imminent promotion on your part. You've been there, not me - you can read the signs, if they're there. If it looks like it's going that way, you may naturally want to reconsider raising and pressing the matter with him. Let him surprise you with it. But by all means, look for the non-obvious clues as to who's about to move where. If it's in the works, you'll be way ahead of the game by reading those tea-leaves ahead of time.

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    • profile image

      rick 3 years ago

      What if you a salary and have worked a 65 hour work week for over 15 years how do you go about addressing this with your employer. The work load has continued to increase and the pay has stayed the same?

    • Satori profile image
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      Satori 5 years ago from California

      Uphill,

      More or less what I'd written in my Hub. There are laws in place to keep you from losing your breaks or being required to work more than 40 hours a week. If you insist upon those standards and still can't manage to accomplish your assigned workload, it's rather more your employer's problem than yours. (Attempting to shift the blame, and thus the workload, onto the employees has been happening a lot.) If they try to fire you for it, you'll have quite a tasty wrongful termination lawsuit going for you.

      The nationwide trend has been an effort by employers to psyche out employees into giving up their guaranteed rights. The idea has been to keep them so concerned that they may lose their jobs, that they'll take any amount of abuse. The unspoken concern has always been that if you don't put up with it, they'll find someone else cheaper who will. This can only continue until a) people start reasserting their rights within the law, and b) people collectively refuse to tolerate impoverished working conditions. Until they do, the conditions will only degrade even further, making that end result not a matter of "if", but "when".

      It's telling that the mainstream media is only playing up the worry on the part of the employees, rather than acknowledging what we've already established plainly in law. They know which side their bread is buttered on, and it certainly isn't their readers'. Don't pay any heed to those corporate lapdogs dispensing what "everybody knows" - because in this day and age, what "everybody knows" is pretty much guaranteed to be wrong.

      Be well,

      - Satori

    • profile image

      Uphill Struggle 5 years ago

      I am in a somewhat enviable position of currently negotiating with my line manager the length of temporary contract they will give for an additional post holder who will be assisting me with my increased workload. So yippee.

      BUT it has taken 3 years to get here and even now we are only talking temporary and even then 6 months not a full year.

      The problem is that the work is here to stay and even to increase not decrease. But the message needs to be better communicated to his superior who has a City work ethic (i.e. let's see you struggling with ten hours work days and long periods of no breaks whatsoever before we acknowledge that you are indeed struggling) I am not prepared to do this, (have kids and a life outside of work!!) and there is a reason I never wanted to work in the City! Already have problems with health due to little breaks from the PC and joint-problems from constant PC use. Any tips, please??

    • profile image

      downtrodden 5 years ago

      i started this job 7yrs ago and had my workload increased every year.my employes said i am on top rate but ai know that's a lie.i just wish they'd pay me what im worth.someone doing less than half mt work load is getting nearly £2.00 an hour more than me.gggrrrrr

    • profile image

      Teody 5 years ago

      This is exactly what's happening to me. I used to have a single job (as i was hired), and then someone quit his job - and all responsibilities were transferred to me.

      It might be a bad- from my side that i worked too hard for the last 4 years (im on my 5th). The boss just started asking me to do this (production), that (research), and that (checking on supplies to be used for my project - doing the follow ups from the construction supervisor) while still doing the previously bloated job he gave - now -- the company is due for 1 certification which i am leading- and have given me the task for another certification project supposedly for HR.

      I just felt 24/7 is not enough - not physically there onsite but thinking how to fit all tasks and remain successful.

      I have been looking into website to know if should quit my job -- need help on this- thanks in advanced (teodysalivia@gmail.com)

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      Frankie 5 years ago

      Good luck trying to talk to your boss. Without union, if I try to talk, I would be replaced.

    • Satori profile image
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      Satori 5 years ago from California

      Lisa,

      Yeesh. Sounds like yet another case of Conniving Management Personnel Contrive To Get An Employee To Overcommit.

      I know it doesn't help much now, but the second time they approached you it would have been a great opportunity to use the Broken Record Technique as described in the Hub. Drawing the attention of both of your bosses to the (to them, unpleasant) fact that you'd already addressed this issue with them previously and they were attempting to skirt it would have bounced the shame from you - where it didn't truly belong - and back onto them, where it plainly did. It sounds like they were making a sneaky attempt to shame and blame-shift you into accepting a situation you'd already rejected. Does this happen often?

      If so you may yet be able to salvage that card in your favor when - as you invariably must - you bring up the subject again. The difference will be that now, because they successfully managed to shame you into accepting an impossible scenario, it will be difficult to back out of it now. And they'll resist attempts on your part to do so, for obvious reasons.

      Another approach might be what's called Workable Compromise. Presenting an alternative that would satisfy both of you - if they weren't out to work you to a nub, that is - would be something they'd naturally accept. For instance, suggesting that if they're going to add workload to you in one area and can't pay you more to compensate, that they could compensate for that by removing some of your workload in another area. Or by giving you an assistant - which would be easier for them as it would involve less pay - to which you could delegate some of the lower-priority, less-intensive workload. If they realize that they've delegated to you some tasks of a higher priority than others, the implicit realization is there - waiting for you to draw attention to it - that they realize your value and that it would be unreasonable of them to expect you to be able to handle everything.

      One of the skills of being management involves the ability to delegate. Problems occur, however, when what they actually delegate is the sense of helplessness and depression you're talking about, rather than simply workload. Part of the responsibility of delegating tasks involves taking accountability for making sure that it's done in a way that is feasible, and doesn't create an untenable situation that they slip out of by merely blame-shifting the mess onto their subordinates - which sounds like what they're doing. If you can find a way to gracefully convey that point to them with subtlety, finesse, and aplomb, you should be able to make the point and a realization of the need for change "click" in their head, at which point they'll very naturally be inclined to resolve the situation because they'll understand the need to do so.

      Unless of course they're just thick-headedly attempting to throw their managerial authority around with total disregard for the problems within the company that this produces - at which point, I would start looking around at other job listings and submitting resumes. You'd want to flee that company like a rat off a ship that's sinking, well before their managerial incompetence runs that place into the ground. =)

      Be well,

      - Satori

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      Lisa 5 years ago

      I have been with this company for 1.5 years. I was hired knowing I was over-qualified but was "promised" growth when hired. My curren title is Executive Assistant III (I'm the President's assistant.) Since October I was "given" another person's job when she left (web updates and our donation page development.)

      Not long after that I was asked if I would consider being another staff person's assistant (in addition to my current duties.) I wrote a response stating that for me to acquire these extra duties it would take $X to do this. They declined.

      Well, on Friday my boss asked me in front of my other boss (yes, I'm assistant to two, Pres. and VP) if I would help do data entry for another staff person. This is the same staff person they aksed me to be assistant to and I said would require $X amount.

      I'm so discouraged right now. No compensation for all this extra work. I'm the type of person who likes to do a thorough job so being this staff person's "data entry" isn't all that I will be doing!

      This is totally depressing me.

    • Satori profile image
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      Satori 5 years ago from California

      Kelly,

      Absolutely. If you read through some of the older Comments on this Hub, you'll find that it's a common tactic employers like to use. "Other duties as assigned" has become such a built-in term in employment contracts - for exactly the reason that you've cited - that you'd have a tough time getting hired anywhere without encountering it. It's just a modern equivalent to the way a butcher used to keep his thumb on the scale, getting a little more than he should in the transaction.

      The Achilles' heel on this one is right there in how the law works, and these days most people aren't familiar with that - which is how employers, banks and governments (just to name a few) take advantage of people.

      Employment contracts are under the venue of law called "contract law", "commercial law", or "equity". Equity means fairness between all parties - if it's not fair, then it's considered bogus in law. There are some essential things for a contractual arrangement to have in order to remain valid in commercial law:

      Good faith (Everybody's required to be acting sincerely), Clean hands (Can't violate the law), Fair business practices (You've got them there), Full disclosure (They didn't tell you everything up front), Duty of care, Just compensation (Which you're not getting), Equal protection of the law, Mercy, and Grace.

      Which means you really have them should it come to court. They're banking that people usually won't know their rights or take them to court, and that they'll be too concerned with putting their job at risk by doing it. What people don't usually understand is that in today's job market, if you lose your job contesting this and can't get re-hired, the employer is liable for the lost pay as part of the compensatory damages he caused you through his business practices.

      The law really is here for our common good. It's a pity most people have forgotten it, and that our politicians have been hacking and re-writing it to misuse it against people. If we started re-applying it again, we'd find that it does exactly those things we've been suffering from the lack of in our society.

      You may want to Wiki "unconscionable contracts", which these days has come to mean any contract that's too one-sided to be fair. There's also some great introductory information on commercial law here:

      http://www.famguardian.org/TaxFreedom/Instructions...

      It's an old adage of our system of law that, "The law allows us no right without [also] a remedy." Meaning if you have a right to fair treatment, the law has a duty to enable you to assert it.

      The more you know, huh? =)

      Be well,

      - Satori

    • profile image

      Kelly 5 years ago

      Where do I even start? I've been with my employer for nearly seven years and for the past three or four years I've at least twice yearly addressed the increasing workload I'm given with nothing more than a yearly 1% raise. More recently my manager has said to me it's in my job description under "other duties as assigned". She seems to think this line in the job description gives her free reign to delegate as much work as she can to people, including management duties to non-managers. Any suggestions on how to handle this?

    • profile image

      John 5 years ago

      Thanks Satori,

      I know myself that I don't have any choice left, thanks for making it clear to

    • Satori profile image
      Author

      Satori 5 years ago from California

      John,

      If that relationship isn't stronger than a job, it's probably not worth salvaging. Rather, it sounds as though your boss may be using that relationship as the basis to increase your workload, thinking - incorrectly - that you don't have any choice left.

      Be well,

      - Satori

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      john 5 years ago

      my boss gives me a lot of job in an impossible deadline, my boss is the best friend of my sister who supplies the company, I wanna quit my Job because the Boss gives me a lot of work loads that is impossible to finish unless I work for more than 12 hours and 7 days a week, I am afraid if I quit my Job it may affect the relationship between my boss and my sister

    • profile image

      Mike 6 years ago

      This was lots of help, thanks Satori

    • Satori profile image
      Author

      Satori 6 years ago from California

      "You say that if your boss doesn't decrease your workload you may have to retain an attorney. To do what?"

      To remedy their employer not acting in good faith, which is a perquisite for any contract. Rather than allow employers to gradually shift the social contract that exists today between employees and their employers, in a direction which increasingly benefits employers at expense to employees - that is, take increasing advantage of employees due to a growing monopolization on job availability - to enable employees to secure their rights under the law. Being contracted to perform "duties as assigned" does not mean they're required to take on Herculean workloads either gradually or instantaneously. Pretending it does violates good faith, and defaults on the employment contract. Arguing against the need for good faith in a contract not only is rather immoral, it also disregards the basis of the employer-employee contract in law. That mentality allows rights to be slid aside in favor of employer opportunism, and enables a gradual practice of restructuring how business is done in this country. No dice.

      "Discussing the situation with the boss is certainly good advice, but at the end of the day, he/she is still the boss."

      Absolutely, for as long as the employee chooses to continue that relationship. But a boss is not a feudal European lord, to which employees must swear fealty in order to work. We did away with that arrangement for some very good reasons, and I'm not eager to see it re-emerge due to market forces.

      "If he or she refuses to budge, unless you have a written employment agreement (which most people do not) you have two choices: Either cope or quit."

      Most people don't realize that a contract isn't the document that both parties have signed. That's merely the record, and receipt, of the agreement. Its purpose is to enable the parties involved to refer back to that record later, as evaluate whether the contract has been kept. Implied agreements occur as part of the hiring scenario, and those undocumented, implied agreements must follow the dictates of standard hiring customs and terms. Because the non-written, implied contract (termed a "bargain" in law) doesn't have a record, and because employers are increasingly consolidating, we find them beginning to morph the nature of those implied contracts. It's easy to do when there's no document associated to the agreement, but the agreement is present and implied nonetheless. Because it's easy and convenient for employers doesn't make it valid, and employees still have the ability to assert their right to a valid agreement in good faith which was made upon their hiring. If the employer abandons that good faith they have defaulted on the hiring agreement, written or not, and are now liable to the employee. Which presents another option, recourse in law, which you failed to list.

      As for government regulations protecting employees indefinitely, I probably don't have to remind you that government policy shifts frequently, and most often according to lobbying. Taxes, for instance, were implemented as a temporary war measure. People were getting married in the U.S. for decades before Marriage Licenses came along, and Drivers Licenses were implemented to determine who was using the roads for commercial reasons, in order to determine who should be taxed for their repair. You may also be aware that select prisons have begun offering opt-in work programs for convicts, enabling them to reduce their time served if they agree to work without pay and keep the program confidential. If this program takes off successfully, about the only missing element from the Industrial Revolution scenario will be the re-introduction of Debtors Prisons, and the formula will be complete. So while it must be reassuring for you to have so much faith in your government's noble qualities and willingness to look out for its citizens despite being constantly lobbied and unchecked by the People, I don't find any reason to share your confidence in it. What's legal structure one day may become a forgotten history lesson the next, which is why it's so important for the People to assert their rights wherever someone begins to encroach against them.

      Be well,

      - Satori

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      Catbert 2011 6 years ago

      I don't get this. You say that if your boss doesn't decrease your workload you may have to retain an attorney. To do what?

      Increasing one's workload may not seem fair but there may be perfectly legitimate business reasons why it must be done and it's certainly not illegal. Discussing the situation with the boss is certainly good advice, but at the end of the day, he/she is still the boss. If he or she refuses to budge, unless you have a written employment agreement (which most people do not) you have two choices: Either cope or quit.

      And honestly, given the amount of federal, state and local regulation of the work place today, the notion that we will all somehow return to the squalid and hazardous work conditions of the Industrial Revolution frankly is fatuous nonsense.

    • profile image

      heavenrooms 6 years ago

      very nice hub, good info :)

    • mrsbudryzer profile image

      mrsbudryzer 6 years ago from Jersey Shore

      I have been in this situation. I have the same problem another commenter had: I'm too good at my job. Hence, I kept getting more and more and it became overwhelming and I started falling behind. I expressed my thoughts to my boss and not only did I get an assistant, I also got a decent raise. It's been over a year now, and more and more continues to come my way (but a bit out of his control)...I didn't even have to say anything to him this time, he started thinking of ways to ease my workload himself! He split my duties in half and asked me to choose which I'd prefer to do and he would have someone else do what I didn't want to. (Couldn't because of time restraints). Even though I could still certainly use a raise...it's nice to have a boss that listens and continues to care when changes occur that put you right back in the same position.

      Cheers to them and cheers to you for such a helpful hub!

    • Satori profile image
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      Satori 7 years ago from California

      That would be a situational judgement call, I think. How well your judgement is depicts your skill.

      If your boss told you to do it a certain way, all else being equal I'd do it their way. Their work, their money.

      There is an old adage in law though, that says, "A man is worthy of his hire." Often misunderstood, it states that if you hire someone to do a job, let him do his job. You can either do it yourself, or let him do it his way; you can't determine how it gets done too.

      Maybe during our two centuries being a country we've had some drift in our thought, here. Dunno. It's certainly interesting.

      Thank you kindly for your readership, and for your Comment.

    • profile image

      john 7 years ago

      if your supervisor tells you to do a job and you know a short cut to do it, would you do it his way or the way you know best.

    • Medical Writer profile image

      Medical Writer 7 years ago from Great Britain

      The picture says it all. Just dont do it.

    • Satori profile image
      Author

      Satori 7 years ago from California

      And sometimes, relationships. =)

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      Suzanne 7 years ago

      That is good to know. ;-) That also applies to externships or interships.

    • ciidoctor profile image

      ciidoctor 7 years ago

      so funny

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      reeltaulk 8 years ago

      If you execute your task too quickly, he may consider you a machine and forget get that you need come up for air!

    • trish1048 profile image

      trish1048 9 years ago

      Thanks Satori, glad to share.

      Patty

    • Satori profile image
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      Satori 9 years ago from California

      Interesting! At that point, you may want to angle for a promotion. Corporate reorganizations aren't something that companies want to make lightly, and are often reluctant to implement. If you're that good however, and if your company relies upon you for that much workload, you're not only demonstrating your ability, you're also demonstrating that they'd be lost without you. This gives you a lot of pulling power. If they value your work, and if they're not compensating you for what it's worth, let them know that they need to keep you. A raise or a promotion could be due to you. You wouldn't feel bad if you were a landlady collecting overdue rent checks, would you? The same applies when it comes to getting compensated for your work. You may also find that the "promotion" is more pallatable for them if you do it in small bits, if you find that they're reluctant. Ask for an assistant, if you get resistance from them on a promotion. A few months later, a title change. A few months down the road, a raise to go along with it. Hey presto - you're promoted!

      Thanks for chiming in, and for joining me as a fan. =)

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      charmaine_zp 9 years ago

      Hi Satori!

      Thanks so much for the advice. It will really help me big time. Actually, I have a female boss. I think the reason she gives me too much workload is because I can be relied on and can finish my tasks earlier than expected compared to my co-workers (not to brag about it, really.)

      I just think that maybe I've been "too good" with my job that the supervisors give me too much paper work.. There are times that I just cry alone at my desk at 9 in the evening in the office, working on papers and tasks that aren't mine.

      But I will do your advice. Thanks so much for your help!

    • Satori profile image
      Author

      Satori 9 years ago from California

      A lot of employers adopt that attitude towards their employees, and this is unhealthy. What is a simple, equal contract takes on characteristics that allow the employer to unfairly dominate the employee in the contractual relationship, and this mindset has come to take root in our workplaces.

      Learning to be assertive, and to re-think those ideas, will pull out those unhealthy weeds from our workplaces again. With unemployment rates up, and corporations increasingly trying to improve their bottom lines by adding workload and minimizing staff, this becomes vitally necessary, or we'll soon be back to the squalid and hazardous work conditions of the Industrial Revolution, where children were paid a few cents a day in factories for jobs like running out onto newly-manufactured carpets to pick lint from them before a large press came crushing down. Many children lost their lives and were maimed by those conditions, and the economic disparities and unfairness made life almost impossible.

      Many corporations will conveniently forget that their staff are actual people - it's easy to do from the remote luxury of a nice office, looking at the figures. The tendency is to slim things down as much as they can, and unless workers become more assertive that's exactly where it's headed.

      I appreciate your comment. Thanks for sharing it.

    • trish1048 profile image

      trish1048 9 years ago

      Great advice Satori,,,

      My boss is fond of saying that they are 'duties as assigned', which translates into 'not what we hired you to do, nor are we paying you extra'.  I struggle with this daily, and have to tell myself I am only one person, and just do the best I can.  It has come to a point now where I am making careless mistakes, and it bothers me a lot.  I will take into consideration your tips and see if I can't resolve it somehow.

      Charmaine_zp, good luck and thanks for putting this out here,

      Patty