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My manager is taking on a lot on my teams' behalf and I suppose I have the classic 'I don't want to admit to being overloaded in the fear of being seen as unwilling to do the work or worse, incapable of managing given workloads' syndrome. (I may have just made that syndrome up)

I think this fear is common and that any manager worth his or her salt should value honest feedback, but I think my pride is getting in the way.

Are there any recommendations out there? I am feeling overloaded with my already assigned workload as well as what's the coming down the pipe. I fear that quality is slipping and stress is increasing due to never ending additions to the workload.

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closed as off-topic by Garrison Neely, ReallyTiredOfThisGame, Michael Grubey, jcmeloni, David Sep 3 at 9:39

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@ReallyTiredOfThisGame while I may be biased due to my answer on this question, I feel that the question you linked was primarily about compensation for being overworked. This question doesn't bring up compensation and instead asks for how to reduce the overwork, making it not a duplicate. –  Matt Giltaji Aug 26 at 13:40

4 Answers 4

up vote 47 down vote accepted

tl;dr

Tell your manager.

Why to let your manager know

Overloaded does not need to mean that you are unwilling to complete the work or are incapable of managing it yourself, but it could indicate that you need some assistance with prioritizing.

Hiding your burden from your manager will not solve anything, as they will either:

  1. Notice the drop in quality/increase in your stress and jump to their own conclusions
  2. Not notice that you are overworked and send even more assignments your way

Raising it directly with your manager, on the other hand, allows them to adjust schedules, re-prioritize incoming assignments, or communicate back to stakeholders that things are slipping due to resource constraints (hopefully getting additional resources in the process). Communicating this to your manager early is also important, as your manager will have more options to make adjustments if the deadline for an assignment is months away, as opposed to weeks, days, or mere hours away.

How to get help and keep everyone's pride intact

Asking your manager for assistance does not need to be anything large or formal, it can be as simple as something like:

I know that D is coming up, but I am still in the middle of A, B, and C. Which of these should be my top priority?

or

I'm currently working on A, B, and C, but with D coming up I was wondering whether I should put A, B, and C on the back burner to focus on D. What would you recommend?

This phrasing communicates what you currently have on your plate, that you are aware of upcoming assignments, and requests the appropriate input from your manager. You are not declaring that you are unwilling to do the work, you are not accusing your manager of overloading you with work, but you are asking for feedback on your intended prioritization. It is usually part of your manager's duties to prioritize the tasks that you work on, so this should be perfectly normal and not have anything to do with your pride.

More Info

This answer on how to determine the urgency of a work request has some more recommendations on how to work with your manager on getting incoming assignments prioritized appropriately.

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In the real world, everybody is overloaded. There's always more to do than you can get done. It's a reality of life. It's also a high-quality problem to have.

You ask if you should "admit to being overloaded." When you put it that way it you're pitching it as a weakness. But it really isn't a weakness, it's normal.

I suggest, instead, that you ask your manager to help you prioritize your work, and the work of your department. Don't say "what should I do this week?" because an inept manager may answer "everything on the list!"

Instead, say, "which of these tasks should I do first and second?" Then do them and ask again.

That way you're showing that you're cooperative. You're asking your manager to do her job, which is to guide you to to use your skills for the good of the business.

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I have seen managers who regularly over-estimated the amount of new work their team could realistically take on because they were ambitious, but poor at their jobs (they were bad at managing people and were uninterested in learning to be better at it).

However I would start with the assumption that your manager is well-meaning but perhaps somewhat unrealistic (which is at least as common in my experience as the above).

I have found "Which of these competing tasks should be my priority?" is excellent advice. I always put this in an email unless I have a strong history with the manager in question and a good opinion of them both professionally and ethically.

This does a number of things:

  1. It flags your concern. Your manager has a right to know this.

  2. It puts the decision of which task to prioritize where it belongs - onto the business. They are paying for the work, they deserve to make calls like this based on business decisions. If you're not managing the project, you will almost certainly not have the information and perspective to make this call.

  3. It makes your manager accountable. If by chance they are acting in bad faith (making careless promises because they believe they can blame their team if the promises aren't met), having their direct instructions in writing is a useful insurance policy. This can be helpful even if they are not actively being an ass - people suddenly consider things a lot more carefully when their own reputation is explicitly tied to the outcome.

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Either you admit to being overloaded or your exhaustion which leads to dumb and under ordinary circumstances, avoidable mistakes, will do the admitting for you.

You all will probably tell your manager something that he doesn't want to hear when you tell him that you are overworked but your manager is not a mind reader and if you don't tell him, he has no way of knowing until potentially busted milestones are staring at him in the face.

If your manager is constructive, he will work with your team to set achievable deadlines and reallocate priorities so that the critical stuff has a chance to get done and if possible, throw in a few more people into the projects. If he is not constructive, you have a problem on your hands. But the only way you know which way your manager reacts is by you telling him.

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