Computer monitor covered in post-it notes due to too much work expected of employee

How to tell your boss your workload is getting too much

Posted by for Careers

Are you feeling overwhelmed by how much you have to do at work? Here’s how to tell your boss how you’re feeling. 

As brilliant as stress management techniques and to-do lists can be, the most effective way to deal with the pressure of having too much work is simply to tell your boss how you feel.

It may seem scary to admit you need help, but speaking up is important. Not only can having too much work cause you unnecessary amounts of stress and put you at risk of burnout, but it can also jeopardise your ability to perform at your best (something which could impact your career in the long-term).  

And that’s not forgetting the fact that sharing how you feel can provide an opportunity for you and your boss to work together to find a solution – enhancing your skills and taking the weight off your shoulders.

But how can you go about starting such a conversation? To find out more, we asked Jenny Devonshire, founder of the new workplace wellness and performance portal Pause2Perform, for her top tips for managing this kind of situation. Here’s what she had to say.  

1. Consult with a colleague 

Two women talking with a cup of coffee in each of their hands
Talking to a trusted friend or colleague will allow you to get an outside perspective.

Before you arrange a meeting or sit down with your boss, Devonshire recommends consulting with a trusted friend or colleague to ascertain whether you’re “overworked or overwhelmed”.

“It may be that you have become so stressed about how much work you are expected to do that you have gone into panic mode – this can lead to an inability to work productively,” she explains. “If this is the case, you could discuss with this colleague or friend how to break down your tasks into more manageable chunks and decide on a plan of how to manage your time.”

Devonshire continues: “However, if they agree that your workload is unmanageable, you will feel more confident that your concerns are valid rather than being a question of your ability.” 

2. Book in a specific time, and be clear about what you want to say 

A woman talking to her boss about her workload in the office
Planning what you want to say will help you to communicate the problem clearly.

Once you’ve stuck a date in the diary (agreeing on a specific time is the best way to ensure the conversation actually happens, Devonshire explains), you’ll want to write down everything you actually want to raise in the meeting.

“Make sure you are clear on what you need or want to say,” she says. “Writing these down and taking your notes into the meeting will help keep the conversation on track ensure you are able to communicate succinctly.”

To highlight why your workload is too much, Devonshire recommends making a list of all the projects you’re working on with the hours that they will take to complete, so you can demonstrate that it’s not possible to complete everything within your working hours.  

“Clear examples help paint a clearer picture and it is hard to argue with facts,” she says. “Setting it out this way means your boss is more likely to get an understanding of the situation and want to find a solution.”

Devonshire continues: “You may also want to have a practice conversation with a friend or colleague – someone else’s viewpoint is always useful and rehearsing it out loud will help give you confidence for the meeting. Your friend or colleague might also think of alternative responses or questions to help you be more prepared.” 

3. Offer solutions (and be open to suggestions) 

A woman talking to her boss
Coming to the conversation with solutions in mind will help you to achieve the resolution you want.

While in an ideal world your boss might take several of your tasks off your plate, life doesn’t always go as we hope it will. In reality, it’s likely that your boss will be looking to find ways for the work to be completed, just with more flexibility when it comes to timing. Offering suggestions as to how to make this work will make the conversation flow more smoothly.

“Offering solutions not only helps to resolve the situation but it also highlights to your boss that you are actively seeking to resolve this issue as a committed employee,” Devonshire explains. 

“Coming up with your own solutions also helps you to feel autonomy over your role, giving you a greater sense of empowerment.” 

Some potential solutions Devonshire recommends suggesting include:

Delaying deadlines: “Could projects that are not urgent be put on hold, allowing you to focus on other things without feeling as if you aren’t delivering?”

Utilising resources: “Are there are any resources that would help you do your job faster or more efficiently? If yes, then ask your boss to invest in them.”

Automation: “Could any of your tasks could be automated or performed less frequently providing you with more time for more important things?”

Delegation: “Could any of your tasks be delegated or shared with colleagues?” 

4. Try to prevent it from happening in the future 

A woman talking to her colleague
Being open and honest about what you can handle from the outset will help you to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

As easy as it is to say ‘yes’ to everything that’s thrown your way, Devonshire recommends using this experience as a learning curve to help you set boundaries in the future.

“Next time your boss or a colleague asks you to take on a new task, be realistic about how long this work will take,” she says. “Explain to them your current workload and how long that will take to complete. You can then find out if this new task is urgent and if they’d like you to prioritise it above other things that are on your to-do list.”

Devonshire continues: “Explaining the situation in this way will also help you with time management as you will be clear on what is manageable and what is a priority. It will also help to highlight to your boss and/or colleagues just how large your workload already is rather than thinking that you are not working efficiently.” 

If adapting to the new world of work is taking its toll on your mental health, you’re not alone. From the isolation of being separated from colleagues while working from home and the stress of relying on technology to struggles with concentration, confidence and setting boundaries, there are a number of reasons why you might find this time particularly challenging.

So, what can we do about it? We’ve got a plan.

Stylist’s Work It Out series aims to give you the tools and resources you need to take care of your mental health at work. From completing your Work 5 A Day to dealing with issues including anxiety, loneliness and stress, we’ll be exploring all aspects of work-related wellbeing, whether you’re working from home, adopting a hybrid arrangement or planning on going back to the office full-time.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.