My wife is in an assistant position at a large company; it's her and her senior on a team, with several teams per branch. Each team has one senior and one or more assistants.

Recently, this company has seen a large increase in the amount of work they handle. However, my wife's team has seen the largest increase in volume in their branch by enormous margins. Customers choose which team they'd like to work with, and my wife's senior is very good at her job; most customers choose their team. Over the past few months, they have repeatedly been the top team in their branch (sometimes outproducing the entire rest of the branch), and just recently they were the top team in the state. By every available metric, their team is doing an incredible job.

However, my wife is having a very difficult time handling this larger workload. She has had to stay late nearly every day for months (I believe she's being compensated for this, but that's not the issue here), she's suffering small breakdowns, and experiencing dramatically increased amounts of stress. We've both agreed this is not a sustainable path, and that burnout is just around the corner, if not something worse.

To put it plainly, she needs help. Some teams have additional assistants; my wife would like to strongly push for one (team sizes are up to the discretion of the manager). However, she's concerned that a request for less work might reflect negatively on her. I firmly believe their team qualifies for an additional assistant, but don't know how to clearly demonstrate that you need help, not that you simply want it. We're both young, and not familiar with how to best advocate for ourselves.

As a complication, about a year ago my wife's manager did bring in an additional assistant with the intention of helping my wife. However, the branch was hit with a series of external tragedies which left them understaffed, and the extra assistant was moved to another team to fill this gap. As an attempt to still help my wife, the manager assigned someone from another branch to take on some of my wife's work. Unfortunately, this has resulted in more harm than good. Perhaps it's the difficulty of coordinating between offices, but my wife has found herself redoing most of the work the outside assistant offers. We believe this weakens my wife's position, as her manager may believe she's provided adequate assistance.

How should my wife approach a meeting where she's requesting extra help? That is, my wife's team cannot handle this level of work, but due to the nature of the company, they can't (easily) regulate the amount of work their team gets. To fix this, my wife wants to bring on another assistant. How can she best present her case to her manager? We're interested in:

  • Numbers or arguments to have prepared.
  • Points to draw attention towards.
  • Points to avoid.
  • A general attitude to approach the meeting with (should she be stating this as a absolute need or as a request, etc...).

In addition, we believe her senior would vouch for her as well.

(As an aside: I know leave time is usually suggested in these scenarios. Unfortunately, she has no extra leave time for the remainder of the year).

  • @JoeStrazzere We don't think she's quite in the medical help territory yet, but if she maintains this workload too much longer, that may change. The breakdowns involve crying at her desk and an absolute dread regarding work. She has to check her emails throughout the afternoon to prevent from being too far behind in the mornings, and so she never gets to fully take her mind off it. She talk to her boss on a regular basis, and her boss understands her workload and stress to some degree, but probably not to the fullest extent. Aug 29, 2018 at 19:39
  • @JoeStrazzere Thanks. I've asked her, and she's corrected me; her boss is aware of both of these. Aug 29, 2018 at 20:05
  • If my question can be improved upon in any way, please let me know. I was surprised to see a close vote for opinion-based. This seemed objective to me. Aug 29, 2018 at 20:16

2 Answers 2


Every employee has a finite capacity for work

If I attempt to pour 10 gallons of water into a 5 gallon pail, is it the pail's fault that the floor got wet, or is it mine?

An employee having too much to do is actually management's problem, not the employee's.

Some specific actions to take:

  1. When new work comes in, she should have her boss help her triage it.

    Hi boss, there are 15 new tasks that should be done today, but I won't be able to get to more than 9. Which 6 would you like dropped?

    Bosses don't like to hear that, but they need to understand that one worker can do only so much work in a day.

  2. Cut back on the overtime.
    She can tell the boss anything she likes "Sorry, can't work O/T tonight, I have plans", "Dentist's appointment", "my husband insisted" whatever. A reasonable supervisor will understand.

  3. Stop fixing the work coming from the other office. If the work isn't good enough, that's the boss's problem.

In short, she should do her job, only her job, and only as much of her job as she can reasonably handle in a normal working day.

I'm not convinced having a single meeting with her boss is going to solve the problem, but perhaps it's a start.

I'd go in with the following points:

  1. The current pace is undeniably unsustainable. The floor's going to get wet. Work is a marathon, not a sprint.
  2. To preserve my health, I need to cut back on the overtime. Over the course of a couple of weeks, it needs to go to zero.
  3. The work from the person in the other office is not up to my standards and I cannot continue covering for that person.

As an alternative, she could try

I've been rocking this assistant role in a major way (look at my numbers). How about promoting me to Senior?

... just a thought.

  • I appreciate the help. Unfortunately, this is a customer-facing position where the work cannot be easily redistributed across teams, and the customers choose which senior they want to work with. A burden of success here is that her senior in incredibly good at her job and attracts far more customers than any other in the branch. As such, they don't get to regulate the amount of work that comes into the team, and if they don't handle the work in a timely manner, customers are quick to complain to her manager. The blame of those complaints falls squarely on the assistants (I don't know why). Aug 29, 2018 at 20:10
  • In other words, 10 gallons of water is coming one way or another. My wife is asking for a second pail. Aug 29, 2018 at 20:11
  • 1
    One way or another, the floor's going to get wet. It will either be a controlled spill, or a huge mess when the bucket collapses (or quits). Either way, it's not going to go on forever. Aug 29, 2018 at 20:13
  • 1
    So the customers should stop being allowed to choose whom to work with
    – Donald
    Aug 29, 2018 at 21:12
  • 1
    @Ramhound Either that or they should be told that Fiona (Lord Farquaad's wife) is busy with other customers and they'll have to wait their turn. Aug 29, 2018 at 21:41

"I wish I spent more time working." said by no one on their death bed ever.

First, I'm sorry your wife is in this position. Being a responsible type myself, it's easy to want to carry all of the work yourself. The problem is that if your wife continues to work this hard, the company doesn't have any idea that something is wrong and she'll burn herself out.

Things I would stop right away:

  1. Redoing most of the work of the outside assistant. This defeats the purpose of having an assistant and does weaken your wife's stance. Your wife could first train the outside assistant on how to do the work properly. If the training doesn't take, approach her senior about replacing the assistant with a new one or getting the old one back.

  2. Working overtime. Start cutting back and setting hard start and stop times right now. The success and failure of the company isn't resting on your shoulders. You have to take time for yourself and recharge.

Things I would start:

  1. Prioritizing the customer requests. Not every request is equally important. Triage the request, assign a priority and put it in your work queue. It's important to manage customer expectations.

  2. Identifying the number of requests and priority level your wife can sanely handle. Calculate the cost (hopefully $) of not handling the requests. Use this information to justify allocating more people to help or reducing the unnecessary workload on your wife.

  • Why the downvote?
    – jcmack
    Aug 30, 2018 at 1:22

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