Busy periods are inevitable at any job. While stress can be manageable in the short term, if you don’t take steps to keep the pressure under control, it can lead to fatigue and burnout. Burnout refers to a collection of different physical, emotional, and mental reactions that occur in response to prolonged stress and overworking.
Signs of burnout include:
- Physical symptoms such as exhaustion most of the time, headaches, and muscle aches
- Getting sick often
- A negative attitude about work or your career
- Feeling like everything is overwhelming or your efforts are futile
- Neglecting your own needs, as if you're a pushover
- Withdrawing from new responsibilities, challenges, and people
- Procrastinating, mainly avoidance or work or it taking long because you can't concentrate
- Short tempered, especially with colleagues
- Difficulty sticking to regular self-care (i.e. exercise, eating well, etc.)
- Loss of motivation and optimism
While there’s nothing wrong with caring about your career, problems arise when work controls your feelings and behaviors. If you slip into the realm of burn out, it can take months, weeks, or even years to lift yourself out. That's why it's important to take proactive steps to manage the problem, starting with speaking to your boss about your workload.
Here are a few tips for telling your manager when you have too much on your plate:
1. Don't enable workaholic behavior.
Reporting to someone who expects you to skip lunch and answer emails at all hours can be challenging, to say the least. The added pressure may not only have you considering jumping ship at your current job, but may follow you home, leaving you on edge long after you leave the office.
Be careful not to reinforce the behavior and enable their workaholism. Avoid giving praise when a result is obviously due to overworking. If you know your boss stayed up all night creating a presentation, complimenting their sacrifice can be counter-productive.
2. Set appropriate boundaries.
Let your boss know exactly when they can (and cannot) reach you after hours (e.g., “I’ll be logged on at home until 7 PM, but then I’ll be out of pocket”). By appropriately limiting your availability, you can continue to support your manager's needs, while also maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
3. Find win-wins.
If you’re worried your boss will balk at your boundary-setting, re-position your limits as an opportunity to find a solution that will honor both your time and the company’s needs. Look for ways to compromise.
For example, if your boss asks you to work over the weekend, let him or her know that you have prior commitments over those days, but suggest setting aside some time to review work on Monday morning. That will help him or her feel comfortable and shows that you’re a team player—without sacrificing your well-being.
4. Say no discerningly.
As a dedicated employee, you may try to go the extra mile to be a team player. But if you're careful, taking on additional responsibilities can overwhelm you. Asserting yourself and say "no" doesn't make you weak; it makes you effective. Before agreeing to take on additional responsibility, make sure you understand:
1. How it will fit alongside your primary job responsibilities.
2. That the tasks are commensurate with your experience level (i.e., don't be the office mom)
3. If there's an opportunity for learning or growth.
4. The exit plan, meaning you know how long the task or project will last and deliverables involved.
Even if you choose to embrace the extra work and additional responsibilities as a challenge and way to grow your skill set, it’s important to communicate with your boss about expectations such as deadlines and the duration of the project.
With full knowledge of your boss’ expectations, you can step in when things aren’t moving along to suggest a change in direction, and you’ll be able to weather surprises (like the project getting extended for an extra week) with grace and ease.
Finally, make sure to take care of yourself. If you relate to any of the signs of burn out above, proactively work with your manager to find a solution take action to tend your own well-being. Your health is worth it.
Melody Wilding is a coach and licensed social worker who helps ambitious executives and entrepreneurs master the psychology of success. Her clients include managers at top companies like Google and HP, media personalities, and startup founders. She also teaches Human Behavior at Hunter College in NYC. Learn more at melodywilding.com.