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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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      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

      Satori 5 years ago from California


      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

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      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??

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      downtrodden 5 years ago

      i started this job 7yrs ago and had my workload increased every 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

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      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 (

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