Career Report
May, 2011 — Issue 135


Dealing with a Mounting Workload

With companies having eliminated many jobs over the past few years, and adding few new ones, remaining staff continue to be left with much more work than they can handle. This environment can contribute to low morale and leave remaining employees with many complaints. But workers faced with this situation need to think first before they start complaining. In the following Q&A feature article from The New York Times, careers columnist Eileen Zimmerman offers some insight and perspective on the topic to help employees to best deal with the issue.

Q. How do you ask for help in a way that doesn’t make you look inadequate or incompetent?

First, realize that you are far from alone. Many people working today feel overloaded, said Susan Zeidman of the American Management Association, who specializes in interpersonal communication skills and management. “People feel as if they have two or three jobs, not just one. It’s the No. 1 complaint from the recession among people we survey,” she said.

One way to approach the topic is to acknowledge that you have acquired more responsibility in the last year and want to rise to the challenge, but could use some help in judging what tasks need to be done first and which ones can wait, said Ann Latham, president of the management consulting firm, Uncommon Clarity. “Your attitude should be that you want to prevent yourself from having to cut corners or having the wrong things fall through the cracks,” she told the newspaper.

Before talking to your boss, though, carefully analyze the components of your workload to gain an objective picture of the situation,” added Allan R. Cohen, a professor of global leadership at Babson College and co-author of “Managing for Excellence.” Find out who receives the reports, memos and other work projects you do—and whether they actually use them.”

That’s how you determine what activities are critical, what can be dropped and whether some pieces can be delegated,” he said. “It will also help you decide if there are any activities you are doing more for your own satisfaction than for meeting organizational needs.” When you meet with your manager, have some options ready for dealing with your workload and frame the discussion in terms of how you can do a better job, Cohen added.

Q. Is it possible you could damage your career by asking for help?

You risk negative fallout only if you complain to your boss that you can’t handle your job. “Don’t go in there saying, ‘I have too much work’ because your boss has too much work, too,” said Joanna Broussard, president of the BizMark Group, a business development consulting firm in Chicago. “It’s much more politically astute to offer and ask for support.”

Q. Is there anything you can do to lighten the load on your own, like delegating some work to colleagues?

If you have a collaborative relationship with co-workers who do similar work, you can ask if they can help you with certain tasks, but generally it’s better to go through the chain of command, Latham told The New York Times.

Let your supervisor decide whether work should be delegated and to whom, because it is possible co-workers may be busier than they seem. “You can always suggest someone else on your team that might be able to handle some of the work, but I wouldn’t directly delegate to others unless you’re specifically given that authority,” Broussard said.

Q. Could it be that the way you work, rather than your workload, is to blame?

It is possible that your problem isn’t too much work, but a lack of efficiency. Zeidman suggests keeping an interruption log to see if constant distractions – whether from people, e-mail or Facebook updates – might be why you aren’t meeting your obligations.

“Let’s say you’ve planned your day but people come into your office and sit down and talk about their vacation while you need to do your budget, or there are always crisis calling you away,” she said. It might be that it takes you an hour to settle into work in the morning.” Once you identify the things that are eating away at your time, you can tackle them by trying to stop the interruptions or focusing on working faster.

It may seem paradoxical, but you can raise your efficiency by taking breaks during the day—a quick walk, a few stretches, a visit to a colleague down the hall. Just don’t use the breaks to procrastinate,” Broussard said. You may also need training or better tools to improve your efficiency, Cohen pointed out to the newspaper. “Look at colleagues that do the same sort of things you do,” he said. “Are they faster? And, if so, what tools are they using?”

Q. Is there a way prioritize tasks so the workload feels more manageable?

Yes, by prioritizing work so you perform the toughest tasks first, Broussard said. “We tend to do the easiest and simplest things first, because we don’t want to deal with the hard stuff,” she said, “but the harder stuff is what we need to do.” To make the big projects less daunting, break them down into smaller pieces. “Sometimes,” she added, “we feel overwhelmed simply because we don’t know where to start.”

News from BLK

Bob Larson, CPC had the honor of addressing the 1,650 NJCU (New Jersey City University) graduates at the university’s 2011 commencement ceremony. “The world will be a better, safer place as these individuals enter the work force. I was overwhelmed with the caliber of top talent. Special congratulations to graduates and faculty for a job so well done”, commented Bob. A link to Bob’s speech can be found here.

We at Berman Larson Kane are pleased to announce the addition of Brenda Kapusta to our staff. Brenda joins the BLK team with 10 plus years of HR experience and will be initially working with our research team. To find out more about Brenda, click here.

Our BLK webinar series continues to receive rave reviews from job-seeker across the globe. Thank you for your positive comments; we will continue this monthly free series as part of our mission to assist all those that are looking for work. Click here to register for our upcoming webinar.