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I have been working for a small business for 15 years on a part-time basis. Over the years I have seen a considerable turnover of staff, some of which I believe has been down to my boss (business owner), who drives staff to burnout and then hires new staff when they quit. I have stayed because the stress has been manageable as a part-time worker and the hours and location suit me.

Recently another part-time colleague and I were offered a management role and a small but not insignificant pay rise after our manager departed. However, our original roles were never replaced and the business has been beset by illness over the past months. This has resulted in both of us having no choice but to cover our previous (essential for day-to-day) roles and in fact working overtime covering for others. At most, our new role (40 hours combined) gets around 8 hours attention from us each week.

We have raised the need for more staff with our boss on numerous occasions with statistics. He does not believe or wishes to not believe we are short-staffed.

Unfortunately I can see myself also heading to burnout. I can see that many of our team are the same, so while I ask them to contribute overtime shifts, I feel a responsibility to also take many myself to share the burden. (For clarity, we get time back in lieu for overtime work, which causes an endless cycle of more cover needed if we can ever get to take it.)

How can I go about conveying the staffing crisis to my boss in a way he will respond favourably to? Since burnout would likely lead to my resignation anyway, are there any ‘drastic measures’ I can utilise to try to preserve my contracted job and our team?

Edit: Thank you for your responses, I’ve read all of them. Your perspective has really helped me evaluate what I’m doing.

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    It sounds like burnout is not the issue, but not replacing staff is. That's what you need to address. Oct 25 '21 at 2:29
  • What country is this in? I'm pretty sure that what you're describing would be against the law in some countries.
    – nick012000
    Oct 25 '21 at 5:25
  • This is the UK.
    – user130165
    Oct 25 '21 at 6:15
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    Please note that "Burnout" is more than just hating your job and quitting. True burnout makes you unable to work at all, not this job and not any other job. It sounds like people in your company hate your boss and their management and quit. That's not burnout. That's just quitting, a perfectly natural reaction to a shitty job. It does not need medical attention.
    – nvoigt
    Oct 25 '21 at 15:12
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    If you feel this job sucks and you need another one, go get it. But if you find you need medical help, go see a doctor immediately.
    – nvoigt
    Oct 25 '21 at 15:13
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You're assuming the issue is that he doesn't understand; it's possible that he doesn't care.

I worked in a churn factory IT spot for 18 months. At first I didn't understand why they would do it, why they wouldn't fix the problems, why they wouldn't address the issues that lead to the turnover. Surely they didn't want to have to be continually training new people, right?

Well... no. Some places are more than willing to exchange:

  • a reputation as a bad place to work
  • inefficiency due to having to regularly train new people

... in exchange for:

  • freedom to squeeze employees hard in terms of immediate productivity
  • not needing to worry about any long term training/development

I'm not saying this is necessarily the case here. But your question is all under the assumption that your boss doesn't understand. It's also possible he's aware of the same things you are - but is more than happy to take the downsides of being a churn shop for the 'positives'. It took me awhile to realize it, and it's a possibility you should consider as well.

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  • Interesting analysis which I think rings true in many cases. Clearly, it depends on an endless supply of somewhat-productive new starts who are worked in an unsustainable fashion, as well as depending on inconsistent quality of output and poor operating methods being tolerated by buyers or regulators. But it will generate profits by undercutting more settled businesses who price-in all the costs of sustainability and quality, potentially bankrupting the better businesses until we are left with a husk market characterised entirely by bad jobs, poor productivity, and eventually higher prices.
    – Steve
    Oct 29 '21 at 10:03
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I think we can agree that, if your boss stays his current course, the business will suffer. It doesn't matter whether that is due to burn-out or people quitting, it will happen eventually. You seem to be doing what you can to (1) convince your boss to take a different approach and (2) delay the inevitable. This is affecting your and your colleague's wellbeing.

Could it be that your boss is not seeing the issues you are seeing, or is not motivated to fix them, simply because you have been so effective at preventing an impact on the bottom line?

If you were to stop trying as hard, that will result in reduced output. Your team will understand, and you will understand if they do the same. Your work situation will likely be healthier for it, even if the drop in output will cause you additional stress. Be sure to communicate openly, proactively and without hostility to your boss, and to explain - again and again - what you need to meet his goals.

If you've simply been ineffectual at communicating the problems you're seeing, your boss might get a little annoyed if you stress how long you've been overworking yourself. Be proactive about the issues you're not solving for him, and he'll get over it.

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    "simply because you have been so effective at preventing an impact on the bottom line" is exactly it. Let his problems become his problems and suddenly he'll have to figure out a plan.
    – stanri
    Oct 26 '21 at 7:48
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After 15 years I don't think it's going to be easy to sway him. I can see of at least three reasons why he may not want to backfill:

  • he may really dislike employing new people;
  • he may believe he is too busy to slow-down and go through the process; or
  • in his mind he's thinking 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'.

If he's content with how things are, things are either going to have to start going wrong or he's just going to keep on continuing how he always had. With his overtime set-up he's essentially only ever paying for an hour's work, there's no penalty on him. When things are bad enough he'll budge.

The other approach is to stop telling him "we need more staff' and take more initiative now that you're in a management role. You can either bring a recommendation of someone that is qualified and he can trust to him, such as a relative or associate, or offer to take care of recruitment for him. That way it's getting done and he doesn't have to be too involved, maybe just a final acceptance.

It's a difficult space to be in when the owner is also the one making the decisions. As every additional pound saved (or earnt) goes directly into his pocket then it's a harder ask to get him to change....

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