5 ways to tell your boss you're overwhelmed

It's going to be uncomfortable. Accept it.

When work becomes too overwhelming, it's difficult to admit to your boss—and yourself—that you need to scale back. Writing for Fast Company, Steve Errey, an author at The Muse, shares five valuable tips for having those tough conversations. 

1. Start by confiding in someone you trust

An important first step is to talk through your burdens at work with a trusted friend, partner, or family member. When you swallow your pride and verbalize your situation to someone close to you, you'll feel less alone and anxious about sharing those concerns with your boss.

2. Manage your expectations

When you set up a meeting with your boss to discuss your dilemma, you need to acknowledge to yourself that it will be uncomfortable. Rather than using that as an excuse not to approach your boss, Errey suggests leveraging your discomfort as a driving factor behind the discussion.

When the time comes for the meeting, "mentioning how hard the conversation is can be a useful way to call out the elephant in the room," Errey says.

3. You don't have to offer a solution

Unlike other work-related problems you might bring to your boss, you don't necessarily need to present a list of potential solutions alongside this one. "You don't have to have the fix," says Errey. "The important thing right now is that you start the healing process." Telling your boss how overwhelmed you are requires you to be vulnerable—this means accepting the fact that you don't have all the answers.

4. Prioritize yourself

During your conversation, your boss will likely emphasize the importance of completing the work one way or another so that the rest of the team can move along. This will put you in a difficult position when it comes to balancing what Errey calls "the right thing for you" versus "the right thing [for] work."

Remember your primary responsibility to your own healing, and resist the urge to offer compromises, says Errey. Compromises will only delay the healing that will get you back into work full swing.

Errey also points out that "if you've been a hard worker and a diligent, productive employee and your company cares about your growth and success, they will find a way to understand—no matter how busy things are."

5. Breathe

Getting emotional during this conversation is another inevitability. Chances are you will have the sense that you are not good enough, or have failed to take the right measures to avoid becoming overwhelmed in the first place.

If you find the emotions creeping into the conversation and bringing you close to tears, consider accepting rather than fighting them.

"Take all the time that you need to breathe and steady yourself," Errey suggests.

No matter what, Errey says, remind yourself that you are doing the right thing by taking care of yourself first, and "trust that this isn't how it's going to be forever" (Errey, Fast Company, 10/12).


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