I’m struggling with my workload. When I raised concerns with my manager they said “That’s just the job. We’re all busy.”  What can I do?

There’s often a waterfall effect taking place in workplaces in regard to workload. 

Chances are your manager is also struggling with their workload and they don’t know what to do.  Perhaps they’ve tried raising it up the line and have been met with the same response.

People often think there are no answers in our current world of work, but there are plenty. 

In any case here’s some suggestions for how you can handle this response and try to get some changes going forward:

1. Try to use different language to describe your state of work utilisation. For example, avoid the word “busy”. It’s ambiguous and is often used as a blocker by those not pulling their weight (hard truth) and can generate defensiveness.

2. When talking about your workload, be as specific as you can about what the problem is. Is it the volume, is it the time it takes to do a task (intensity), is it the timelines in which you are given (too short), is it delays you are encountering in carrying out your tasks (interdependencies with other departments, internal processes, systems for example).

3. Are there patterns where the workload increases to an unmanageable level and then returns to manageable? Ebbs and flows?  When does that occur? There’s more chance your Manager will listen and identify a solution if you can be specific about what and when the problem occurs.

4. Own your own truth – it could be the olive branch. Have you perhaps said yes a little too often?  Made a rod for your own back?  Wanted to do certain tasks?  If you have contributed to the current situation by being too accepting, or not speaking up sooner, use those words. For example:  “I may have contributed to this by accepting that last project, even though I didn’t really have capacity.  I have trouble saying no sometimes.”

5. Present a menu. This is one of my favourite strategies in life!

Jonah Berger, author and Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of my all-time favourite humans, in his book The Catalyst, wrote about this concept of presenting a menu rather than telling people what to do. It gives people a sense of control. 

There’s much more context, however, in the case of workload you could simply present the menu:  I could get X completed by the deadline, or Y.  Which would be your preference?  Or I could get X and Y completed by the deadline if ABC is put on hold, or delegated? 

A menu. You’re not saying no. Explore how you could craft your particular problem into a menu.  

If you’d like support to reduce work stress associated with high and low work demands, here’s four ways I can help:  

1 – Understanding Workload Management – Half day workshop for Leaders
2 –  Workload Management Guidelines – Comprehensive Checklists and Guidance
3 – Breakthrough – An Individual Program for Professionals Struggling with Workload  
4 – Workload Utilisation Assessment Tool with Coaching Instructions for Leaders   

Tanya Heaney-Voogt

Director & Principal Consultant
MBA, ICFACC, MAHRI, Dip Mgt, Dip Coaching, Prosci® Certified Change Practitioner
E: tanya@tanyaheaneyvoogt.com

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