Posted by Robert Half on 23 April 2014
The ability to “grin and bear it” when stress mounts is a positive attribute in the business world. As a result, many professionals feel uncomfortable asking for help when they’re feeling overloaded; they don’t want to risk having their boss or colleagues view them as someone who cracks under pressure.
However, failing to speak up when you know you’re in over your head can lead to issues far more damaging than image problems, including burnout, missed deadlines and ultimately eroded trust with your colleagues and managers.
If your company has experienced redundancies or has a hiring freeze in place, you might be shouldering more responsibility now than you did in the past. Although taking on new assignments can be a good career move, doing so can lead to burnout if the scope of your responsibility has expanded beyond what you can reasonably manage.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t try to shrug it off. Instead, call a meeting with your manager and be honest about your situation. Work with them to prioritise projects or look for ways to delegate some of your tasks.
If you’re heading for career burnout, here are some strategies to help you renew your enthusiasm and get your working life back on track.
1. Request input on how best to prioritise tasks
The way you manage your time can also affect your ability to rebound from job exhaustion. If you’re overbooked or spending too much energy on noncritical initiatives, you may be creating additional pressure at work. Try keeping a simple record of your activities for a week and divide the findings into categories such as ‘researching’, ‘reviewing proposals’ and ‘responding to emails’. Then look are whether you’re devoting adequate time to the highest priorities.
Your manager may not know how full your plate is, so help them visualise your work overload by making a list of ongoing projects grouped by priority. Have your manager confirm that you’re focusing on the most important tasks according to business needs, and then discuss whether deadlines for those assignments are realistic. Ask for their guidance in prioritising lower-priority tasks as well, so you can plan ahead appropriately for when those items will become top priorities.
2. Ask to delegate some responsibilities
A common symptom of burnout is a feeling of isolation. You may think you’re the only one who can review a particular document because you understand the project best, but someone else might bring in a fresh perspective – not to mention relieve some of the burden. It’s acceptable to let others know that you’re facing difficulties and request their assistance. Keep in mind that you would not be perceived as someone who complains a lot if you objectively outline the specific issues you are trying to address and ask for guidance.
Once you’ve determined which projects require immediate attention and when other work overload spikes are likely to occur, work with your manager to identify tasks that only you should handle based on your role or expertise. Then evaluate the remaining items on the list. Are there responsibilities that could be temporarily assigned to another colleague? Could you team up with another employee to ensure you meet deadlines?
3. Consider bringing in outside resources
If, after discussing workload demands with your manager, it becomes clear that no one in-house is available to support you — whether it’s because they lack time or don’t possess the right skills or expertise — you may want to consider engaging temporary or contract professionals. Leading firms often hire interim employees to prevent core members of their teams from suffering from workload overload. If you’re worried about losing face by asking for help, remember that missing a major deadline will be more damaging, both to your psyche and to your team’s results. The best thing to do when your work overload balloons past the point where you can manage it is to put the business first and ask your boss to help you find practical solutions that will keep projects on track — and you performing optimally.
Allow time to periodically recharge. Even if you’re working long hours, you can counteract stress and maximise your performance on the job by taking five or ten minute breaks throughout the day. Stand up and stretch or go for a short walk. Instead of eating lunch at your desk, try the work kitchen or step outside the office for some fresh air. Use your annual leave as well. Getting away from the office – even for a day or two – can refresh your perspective and give you renewed focus and energy.
Work overload needs to be addressed early on
A certain amount of stress is inherent in any job, but when the pressure gets out of hand, it’s important to act quickly. Work overload can negatively affect not only your overall job performance, but also your personal life. By taking measures to reduce the amount of stress you’re facing, you can regain your motivation.
Remember all of the above when you broach the situation with your boss and always keep calm when explaining why you need help.