What to Do When You’re Overworked


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — If you feel overworked in your job, you’re certainly not alone, but that doesn’t mean you just need to grin and bear it, experts say.

Ever since the Great Recession forced businesses to trim payrolls and cut costs, those who did manage to keep their jobs often saw their workloads increase as a result. One Careerbuilder survey from late 2010 found that 52% of U.S. employees work more than 40 hours a week, and nearly a quarter work long enough that they don’t have enough free time to pursue their hobbies.

Likewise, a new Expedia study found that the vast majority of Americans (62%) work so hard that they don’t even take all their vacation days.

“It’s no secret that in the down economy, employees were often faced with increased workloads where they were doing two or three people’s jobs,” said Samantha Zupan, spokesperson for Glassdoor.com, a job search engine. “But I think in the depths of the recession, people were just happy to have a job.”

That sentiment of resigning oneself to being overworked is, according to Zupan, just beginning to change now, as the gradual improvements in the job market make workers feel “less stuck” in their current employment situations.

“I think workers are starting to evaluate how much work they have on their plate and taking that into consideration,” she said.

This means many workers may soon be faced with a tough question: How overworked must you be to warrant bringing the matter up with your boss, or even walking away from a job altogether?

Signs You May Be Overworked

Every job comes with periods where the workload is greater than others, but according to Alexandra Levit, author of New Job, New You, there are certain telltale signs when your workload has truly reached a breaking point.

“If you have trouble focusing on any one task when you’re at work, or you find yourself snapping at co-workers and clients or you don’t sleep well at night and find it difficult to summon the energy to get out of bed in the morning, you may be overworked or burned out,” Levit said.

But just because you feel you’re overworked doesn’t always mean that the company or your boss is to blame.

“Sometimes the problem isn’t the workload, but the employee,” said Alison Green, a career expert and author of the Ask A Manager blog, who notes that the employees may feel overwhelmed by work if they are unsuited for their jobs, or simply because they are bad at managing their time.

“I’ve seen some people complain about being overworked when I know they’re on Facebook during the day or checking their personal email. You don’t get to claim you’re overworked until you’ve tried cutting out distractions and really focusing,” she said.

If, however, you put in the necessary hours and attention on the job but still feel stressed by the quantity of work, it may be time to rethink the way you work.

How to Cope With Being Overworked

More than anything else, Green argues the key to combating a heightened workload is to “prioritize ruthlessly.”

“You need to seek information about what can and can’t be pushed back, what shortcuts can and can’t be taken, and the relative importance of everything on your plate, and prioritize accordingly,” she said.

According to each of the career experts we spoke with, it’s essential that workers take a moment to distance themselves from the pile of work on their desk and separate out the menial day-to-day tasks from the larger projects to hone in on assignments that absolutely must get done. Taking this time to gain perspective might also help workers determine which, if any, of their assignments can be delegated to others in the office.

“There may be an opportunity to pass off some of your work to a fellow colleague who has more time on their hands,” Zupan said. Likewise, she and others point to the possibility of bringing on an intern or temp worker to help shoulder some of the workload, but in these cases, it’s important to remember that new hires require training and therefore may not offer immediate relief. That’s why Zupan suggests pinpointing some of the more basic tasks that stress your workload, like data entry, which can more easily be passed off to new hires.

Beyond this, you can attempt to cope with the mental strain of excess work by taking simple steps outside the workplace like forcing yourself to sleep longer, making sure you get out of the office for a few minutes every day for stress relief and generally setting aside some time for yourself.

“Instead of spending all of your waking hours trying to be all things to all people, set aside a half hour to do something that has no other purpose but to make you happy. It could be as simple as sitting in the park on the way to work,” Levit said.

Should the stress and burden of work continue despite these efforts, there may be no other choice but to reach out to your boss.

What to Say to Your Boss

When you do decide to bring concerns about your workload to a boss or manager, it’s important to stay positive.

“Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, tell your manager what you can do,” Green said. “Try saying something like, ‘With only 10 days, I can do X and Y, but I’ll need to modify Z in the following ways. Would that work?’”

Green emphasizes the importance of being proactive and offering your boss some options on how you might best be able to manage the workload, whether it be modifying the time table when the assignments are due, or mentioning a co-worker who may be able to assist you in the work.

According to Green, good managers might choose to push back in this conversation if they believe the workload is something that can be achieved in the time previously allotted, but the fact that you have come up with an alternative way to complete the work will still reflect better on you than if you had simply bickered about the workload.

Indeed, when confronting bosses or even co-workers about being overworked, our experts agree that it’s essential to avoid complaining.

“There’s a difference between complaining and being constructive,” Zupan said. “When you’re stressed, more often than not everyone around you is stressed as well, so you don’t want to put out a lot of negative energy or it will only bring about more stress for everyone involved.”

Handling yourself in the right way here may not only result in changes to your workload, but, according to Zupan, it could also demonstrate your worth as an employee overall.

That said, if your bosses and co-workers fail to accommodate your needs, and the heightened workload and stress persists, it may be time to begin looking for a position at another company that’s known to have a better work/life balance.

—For a comprehensive credit report, visit the BankingMyWay.com Credit Center.

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