Three Easy Steps for Telling Your Boss You're Swamped With Work

January 23rd 2017

Lucy Tiven

Communicating with your boss can prove particularly challenging when you're slammed.

Boss Yelling at Employee

But there are strategies to deal with a daunting workload and ways to raise the issue with your supervisor, time management expert Julie Morgenstern told the Harvard Business Review.

As it turns out, the best way to ask for help is not simply to scrawl "SOS" in crayon.

Morgenstern, the author of "Never Check Email in the Morning," breaks down the conversation into three steps.

1. Make it clear that you're on the same team.

Before delving into obstacles, start by "stating the organization’s shared objectives," Morgenstern told the Harvard Business Review. Instead of thinking of your boss as an adversary, make it a point to illustrate that you're both dedicated to the company's central mission.

"You are partnering with your boss to fulfill the company’s goals," Morgentstern said.

2. Break down the unfinished business.

Come prepared with a list of what you're trying to tackle. Explain where you're succeeding and which projects present obstacles to you.

Once you have a handle on where you're struggling, you can ask your boss how much time and effort should be dedicated to each task. Get a clear picture of "what a maximum, minimum, and moderate effort looks like" on these items, Morgenstern said.


3. Don't just come with a list of grievances.

"Never go to your boss with a problem unless you have a solution," Morgenstern said. She recommended presenting three possible solutions for each problem you're facing. This can involve re-assessing the timeline of certain projects, delegating tasks to others, and isolating items that are simply too much work: "projects that can be delayed, delegated, deleted, or diminished," as she put it.

Work is one of the most significant sources of stress among Americans — second only to money, according to a 2015 study from the American Psychological Association.

Stressed About Money

It's important to talk to your boss rather than stay silent and let things pile up.

But it can also be useful to consult a coworker, friend, or family member.

"A third party can help you get grounded," Morgenstern said. It can help to go over your list of "dirty laundry" (uncompleted work) with them before you approach your boss or manager. Asking someone else if she thinks you've got too much on your plate can help you get an objective sense of your progress and your employer's expectations.

You can read more about how to handle your workload in the Harvard Business Review.