You’re stressed and depressed from a Herculean workload, and perhaps the environment in which you work too. Should you raise the subject with your manager or keep your head down and say nothing?
Duty of care for your mental wellbeing
By law all employees have a duty of care towards their employee’s physical and mental health. If you are struggling, it is appropriate to bring it up and to see what your options are for support. Your instinct will be to stay silent, and even berate yourself for not being able to cope, especially if you work in a long hours culture where your colleagues seem to be coping and you are not.
But shame and suffering dwell in silence (note what happened with #MeToo). If no one speaks up, management may not know there is a problem or will be able to conveniently ignore it.
How to raise it
As with all tricky conversations, you must plan what you want to say and how you will say it, and have the conversation in a private room. Rehearse your opening line, hold your ground firmly and gently, read your manager’s reaction and respond accordingly. You know your manager so you will know his or her likely objections. Think through answers that respect those objections yet which bring it back to the issue at hand, and come with solutions that you think are reasonable.
What to ask for
- The opening statement
Start with your opening statement in which you explain the problem briefly, the emotional (your feelings) and practical impact for you (on your work, on the team, on your life) and most importantly, your desire to resolve this. Use feeling words (they can’t be disputed because they are yours). Use the word “problem” and “resolve” to get attention.
For example (if your usual work hours are 8-6pm):
“I have been leaving at 9 or 10pm every night for the last three weeks and coming in at 7am every morning, and I am struggling to get all my work done. I feel distressed because I worry that I can’t do my work to my usual high standards and turning out exceptional work for you and our clients matters a great deal to me. I am losing sleep and I wake up anxious every morning because I don’t know when I will be able to come up for air to even think straight. Even at weekends I cannot relax sufficiently to feel I am on my game on Monday morning. This is a problem for me and I need your help. Can we talk about this please? I want to resolve this and I need your input/help.”
- Next explain your needs and wants
Before the conversation think carefully about what you need and what you want from your manager or others. Clear requests will maximise your chances of success, whereas blaming and complaining tends to be less productive. Some questions to help you:
- Do you need help from your manager to prioritise several projects with you? Give you more time to complete something?
- To delegate part of a task to another member of the team who is less busy or more experienced in order to get something to a client within a punishing deadline?
- To coach or guide you on how to do something that’s new to you, and which you are not sure of where to begin?
- To protect you from a senior person or client who always comes direct to you because you are competent – rather than through your manager who oversees what everyone has on their plate and who has the power to direct workload?
Then, turn your need into a request such as:
“I need to streamline what I am working on. Please can you help me prioritise? What must I put first and what can wait until next week?”
- Listen and explore, and keep exploring, until you find a solution that is workable
This is about asking questions to understand your boss’ perspective, and to propose and counter-propose with trust and respect different solutions until you can agree on a plan of action. You can also ask for a later meeting to review how the solution is working, and to explore other options.
Put yourself first
In the meantime, take full responsibility for taking care of yourself at work and outside of work. Make sleep and “doing nothing time” a priority. Phone your Employee Assistance Programme for talking support. Get outside at lunchtime. Say “no” where you can to new commitments. They are common sense, but are often easier to intend to do, than do.
If you have a conversation you need to plan about how work is negatively impacting you, or to think more widely about whether you are in the right job for you, book in for a free career consultation.