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"How do you feel about your workload?"

I get asked this probably once-twice per week. She's big on leadership books, so I imagine this might be a question she picked up from there. It started when we began working from home (COVID-19), but we're slowly returning to the office.

It's not particularly bothersome, but I wonder, is she concerned that I am being under-productive or worrying about me feeling overwhelmed? Is this a common management question?

I'm a Report Developer for a Performance Improvement team -- We operate mostly independently, with weekly meetings on how our projects are going. We have the classic struggle of communicating technical hurdles. (Can we add X to this report? It seems so easy!)

  • It would help if you provided more information about what industry you are in and what your job entails as the reason for the question could depend on both of those answers – Joe W Jul 17 at 23:25
  • I'm a Report Developer for a Performance Improvement team -- We operate mostly independently, with weekly meetings on how our projects are going. We have the classic struggle of communicating technical hurdles. (Can we add X to this report? It seems so easy!) – Aww_Geez Jul 20 at 13:17
  • You should add that to the question as it can be missed in a comment. – Joe W Jul 20 at 15:45
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My manager has been managing a remote team (everyone works in a different office) for years (the team has existed for 3+ years now). And she originally got the job partially because she had experience managing remote teams (and mostly because she is really good at handling her people).

And one of her first questions she has for me everytime we have a one-on-one meeting is "what is your workload like". Our work is assigned by her, but also by other parts of the company we are assigned to support so she's not always fully aware of what work we are doing on a daily basis.

And with the COVID-19 working environment, she's basically able to keep working the same as before because we are all remote from her (whether we are in another office or our own homes). So she's not checking to see if i am being productive or not - she's generally interested to make sure I have enough work to do. She frequently assigns new (and often interesting) tasks to people she knows have bandwidth to handle extra work.

So when she asks the question, she is legitimately curious about how much I have on my plate and if I can handle extra work. Sometimes i can take a lot of extra work, sometimes I can't, but answering truthfully helps me get extra fun tasks when my other work is slow and keeps her from bothering me when work is very busy.

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  • This is very similar to the environment I am in - Work comes to us directly from requestors, as well as through her. Thank you for your response. – Aww_Geez Jul 17 at 21:24
  • Reflecting on the new environment we're in and the lack of face-time, I imagine I overthought this one. I believe she genuinely wants to know what my workload is like so she can help in whatever way she can. – Aww_Geez Jul 20 at 13:19
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“It's not particularly bothersome, but I wonder, is she concerned that I am being under-productive or worrying about me feeling overwhelmed?”

Either of those are possibilities. It’s also possible she’s not assuming either one and simply wants to know how you feel about your workload. Is it too much work? Not enough work? Just the right amount of work? Part of her job as a manager is makIng sure the team is busy but not overwhelmed and from her perspective, it can be hard to get an accurate picture as she’s not in the trenches with you every day. This is especially true in the age of Covid when coworkers are unable to have face to face interactions and many of us are grappling with personal issues that could interfere with our regular workload.

Unless you have good reason to suspect an ulterior motive, take the question at face value and answer honestly.

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She's big on leadership books, so I imagine this might be a question she picked up from there.

I have read about doing this in several books and articles, so it is plausible.

she concerned that I am being under-productive or worrying about me feeling overwhelmed?

If you have to wonder, you need to assume that she is concerned about your productivity. It depends on what your organization is like though. The correct answer to this question depends on the political nature of your company.

My answer to this is usually: "Reasonably busy, but what can I do for you?"

If there is an opportunity, I do not discourage them from sharing it and seem eager and willing to take on new things.

If they are just gauging my workload, it isn't the "slammed" that others will give, but with the right tone, it just seems modest.

Either way, my question usually gets a motivation for asking (not always the real motivation, but still useful), which is helpful for you going forward.

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With Covid19 and many people working remotely, it is natural that a manager to ask how things are going.

People experience remote working differently, some positive others less so. Depending on your circumstance, you had to balance homeschooling your children with your normal workload. Others find it lonely, and the relentless series of Zoom (others are available) calls draining. Or chaotic if you are in a house-share and you don't have much space, ending up spending long periods in your bedroom.

I think she is just being a good caring manager.

If she had an issue with your productivity she would have told you so.

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