Q&A: Should I Tell My Boss I Have Burnout?

I’ve read your columns about avoiding burnout but here I am, burnt out. I spoke to my boss about my workload and he interpreted that I was stressed because of having more responsibility, rather than just the sheer volume of work (which it is). My contract is up for renew in a few months and I’m worried that having brought up my work stress will affect my ability to negotiate a better title and salary. Did I do the right thing? What should I do now to prove I can handle a more senior position?

It’s hard to say whether you did the right thing. There’s always a balance between exercising your rights in the workplace and trying to get ahead; the two are often at odds.

In this case, you attempted to create a sustainable situation for yourself and, yes, may have talked yourself out of a promotion.

But all is not lost.

For future use, and for others reading this, I would never use the word “burnout” with a manager, or even “stress.”

Instead, I would say things like:

We are understaffed in our department right now. I’m turning out high-quality work at as fast a pace as anyone could without sacrificing accuracy. Can we call a meeting to discuss solutions to having more business than we can process?

I am getting a lot of lower-priority items thrown on my plate right now, and I don’t want it to crowd out the items you’ve told me are top priority. What would be the best way to get other people involved in this?

I’m working about full-time on [main priority], like you asked. I have [other departments] sending me [these other tasks], but those tasks have to take a backseat to [main priority]. Can we get [other people] to [do something else with] those tasks?

I see a lot of bigger projects at the company I’d like to contribute to. I think some of the more routine tasks I’m doing aren’t the best use of my time now that I have experience on [something important]. Could we talk about passing on some of the more routine tasks to an administrator or even an intern? I could write a manual for them.

I’ve had about six months’ worth of work assigned to me just in the last two weeks! It’s good we’re getting so much business! What would you like me to work on first? And then what? And then what? …So I should do these other ten tasks once X, Y, and Z are done? No? Okay, what is the correct order?

Note that a lot of these are about fixing the problem and changing the workflow, not just your feelings about your own work situation.

If you want to move into a more senior position, act like someone who solves problems. Don’t come to your manager with issues about your own work-life balance. Instead, treat your own work capacity the same way you’d treat any company resource — you need to keep the employees working at peak levels just like you need to put toner in the copier.

How can the whole office’s activities get done so that no one gets overloaded and everything moves smoothly?

If you can work that out, you can of course route yourself to a desirable position in that workflow.

And, if you can work that out, you’ve actually shown management potential.

Don’t just do your assigned work and wait to be chosen for advancement. Your prince will not come.

If you want to be a manager, manage this. Take a bigger view. You might even help the work-life balance of others, in addition to your own.

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