Asking For a Friend | Chapter 58
Advice from Babe to Babe
Is there anything worse than hearing “Can we talk?” from your boss? No way. Those three little words are the source of workplace dread—but having to initiate a tough conversation with your supervisor can be just as frightening. This week, we tackle two stress-inducing topics with tips that’ll get your head in the game.
Set up a meeting specifically to discuss your short-term goals to ensure you’re on the same page as far as when projects get completed or your work methods, etc. Use this meeting as an opportunity to show how full your plate is and mention that to meet all your goals you just discussed, you may need to offload some things, or reprioritize others. I would also include some solutions to offload your work, and ask to work together. Basically, show her how much work you’ve got going on, offer a solution, and be honest about how you feel towards it.
Your boss likely has high expectations of you because you always live up to them! It's a blessing and a curse. While you're worried about failing, your boss very well may see you as thriving. She might not have a clue you're feeling so much pressure. But for your mental well-being, I believe you need to talk to her. Say what you said in this question: "I've noticed you have really high expectations for my work, and I really appreciate that you expect quality from me. But at the same time, I worry about letting you down and that makes me feel stressed. How can we strike a balance?" You should then be prepared to make your needs clear. What it is that you need to thrive? More detailed feedback? Less work? Help breaking down big projects into manageable tasks? Regular check-ins and assessments? Support in prioritizing tasks? Once you know what the answer is, ask for it. A good manager will manage you how you need to be managed and will want to do everything she can to support your success.
As someone who may very well have Wonder Woman as her boss, I know this feeling too well. I have always been the “yes” girl for my company and have been able to maintain a high level of productivity for almost eight years as that. I recently hit a wall and was on the verge, (or if you ask my boyfriend, in the middle of) burnout, and it was impacting me physically, emotionally, and professionally. I started to disengage from my work and my team, and productivity dropped. I wrote down all of the things I was working on to determine if I was delegating appropriately. This exercise made me realize I had way too much on my plate, but I was too afraid to tell my boss that. Once I realized that it was impacting my employees, I knew I had to. I sat down in my one-on-one with her, brought the list of projects, and explained that I needed her help prioritizing because there were too many plates to spin. What I quickly realized was that I had higher expectations of myself than she did. She helped me reprioritize, which ended up helping me decrease overall workload for the near future for me and my team. In short, being honest and transparent is important. Had I continued to let myself work at that pace, I may have really burnout, gotten sick, or worse, quit. The alternative to transparency is usually so much worse so as long as you can communicate in a professional and respectful manner, she will appreciate it
I've had situations like this before and I've typically asked for check-in with my boss, and then just been honest with him or her. Something along the lines of: "I really want to succeed and do well, but right now I feel there is too much on my plate for me to really thrive in this role. Can we discuss priorities?" Sometimes in situations like this, it’s more a matter of understanding which needs come first at your job.
The most important thing you can do is be open and honest with your boss. I would go to her and tell her exactly what you've said here: you don't want to let her down, but you're feeling overwhelmed. A proactive approach might be to ask her to help prioritize your tasks in terms of what's most important to her. Many times, a conversation as simple as, "Can you please help me prioritize?' is incredibly helpful.
I think it's good to emphasize you want to maintain a high level of quality in your work and acknowledge you're glad your boss sees you as capable. Ask if there's anything that could be delegated to another employee so you can focus on the significant or "big tasks" or if she can recommend resources within the company to help you. Reiterate that you're not shirking any of your assignments if you feel the need to, and that you just want to do the best you can.
The fact that your boss has high expectations for you and that you don’t want to let her down illustrates what a great employee you are. Because of this, she should respect you coming to her with how you’re feeling. Set up some time to chat and just be honest. But, also come with solutions. For example: “I’m feeling overwhelmed because of xx, and I think what would help would be xx. I enjoy this position and value this job, so it’s important to me that I avoid burnout. Is this something we could work out together?”
To be able to put your best foot forward in your work, you have to be honest with your boss. Every job can feel a little overwhelming, but you don't want long-term frustration and stress to affect your attitude toward your job. Start with an open conversation about how you're feeling overwhelmed, and come prepared with ideas that might help you. Are there small tasks that can be delegated to a coworker to lighten your workload? Can you work together to limit distractions in your workplace? It sounds like you've proven yourself as an asset to your company and your boss should be willing to work with you so the relationship is mutually beneficial. If not, it may be time to look for another opportunity where your workload feels balanced and you feel sane.
If you've never run into this situation before, it can feel like you're failing your team—and yourself—when you realize you cannot take on everything that is currently on your plate. I would recommend outlining your strengths around where you do add value, contribute to success, and can learn new things quickly that helps support your team. Then take time to evaluate what you truly are struggling with; sometimes that is the best way to frame the conversation. Approach your boss with this as a learning opportunity for you. Tell her/him what you need help with (e.g. time management, new skills, stress management,) ask for their insights and support. Try out the advice they share, because if they're a good leader, it will lead to a discussion of why you are struggling, and they will help co-create appropriate boundaries with you!
Absolutely. My first job out of college, I left because of my boss. I was so anxious about the situation I never told her I was leaving because of her. I let HR know as much as I was comfortable with during the exit interview, however, if I had documented her behavior during my time there I could have save the company time and money because eventually they let her go. Years later I had another experience with a challenging boss. I put in my two weeks, I was offered a better opportunity, and as my last day approached my boss brought me into his office and asked me straight-up how I was doing and why my behavior had seeming shifted. I decided I wasn’t going to make the same choice I did years ago and so I laid out for him all the ways I felt he contributed to my leaving the company. I didn’t yell, I might have cried a little. But even so, I was honest. And even though much of what I said was negative, even my boss was impressed with my courage. He said he knew it took a lot for me to step up and share what I did with him. And honestly, I did feel courageous. I felt proud, and like I had really grown! So, I say, just tell your boss like it is. (Professionally, of course.) Because it feels a lot better than saying nothing.
Assuming you still need this job as a reference, tread carefully. If I'm not mistaken, legally a former employer can't say anything about you beyond whether or not you're eligible for rehire. This doesn't mean you have to lie, by any means. You can keep it as simple as, "I wish we’d had better communication during my tenure here," or "I want to pursue a position where I felt more supported." Who knows, you might be doing a favor for whoever fills your position!
I've been in this situation, and it's very tough. I'd ask yourself, "What's the win?" If you're honest, does that change things for the better for those who still work there? Does it relieve something inside of you that you feel you need to let out? Then, maybe it's worth it. If you're going to be honest just for the sake of being honest, but nothing good comes of it, it might not be worth it. There are also subtle ways you can say, "I'm leaving because of you" that aren't so direct. "I don't feel like I am a good fit for this organization, currently" is a nice, discreet way to put it.
This isn't typically protocol for leaving a company. Can you ask HR if you can do an additional interview with them? Reasons like this are exactly why they don't allow direct supervisors to do exit interviews.
This is a toughie. I can mostly assume if you’re leaving due to your boss, you might have had a less-than-stellar relationship with him. I am a big advocate of leading up to your supervisor so they can identify blind spots of growth, but only when you feel comfortable and know they have your best interest at heart. If you believe he does, then be honest—because you may make a difference for existing and future employees. If you do not, then you may want to consider addressing the concerns in a way that may be more constructive (and less destructive for references) for you.
Man, I love an exit interview. This is absolutely your time to be honest about why you’re leaving. But that can be done professionally. Instead of a roast of your boss, think of it as an opportunity to provide feedback. Let him know what you enjoyed about the position, the challenges you faced, how you felt you could have been better supported, and ultimately why you’re leaving. It may fall on deaf ears, but you’d be hopefully helping out your replacement.
Absolutely. Of course, do so in a tactful way. The only way for people to actually know they need to get better is to get helpful, honest feedback. If you have an HR rep in your company, try to have this conversation with them as well. That way there's (hopefully) some accountability and opportunities for specific leadership training considered after you leave.
Only if you can do it from a place of "This would be an even better place to work if..." and keep a pragmatic approach to the conversation, then if would be worth it. Try speaking to behaviors, perceptions, and culture rather than right and wrong. If you're going into the conversation to blame them, prove them wrong, or feel a sense of justification, it's probably not worth it (or your reputation.) Do some reflection on what you have to say and why you have to say it, and you'll be able to figure out if it makes sense to talk about.
Until Next Week,
—The BWH Advice Gurus
Asking for a Friend is Babes Who Hustle's weekly advice column that asks and answers the work-related questions on all of our minds.
Looking for advice and guidance? Hit us with all of your workplace-related questions below and stay tuned for next Wednesday's edition!