Being overwhelmed is not a pleasant feeling. It can seem as though your world is out of control. If the situation becomes extreme enough, it can lead to panic attacks and burnout. Part of the problem is that we are trained to accept challenges at work, even when expectations are unreasonable. So, learning the art of pushing back is vital to our productivity and well-being.
Thankfully, there are warning signs that you are feeling overwhelmed. If you can recognize these, you can take steps to manage the situation before it escalates. This article will show you how to know if you are overwhelmed, how to broach the problem with your manager, and how to take control of your life and your career.
Most people feel overwhelmed at work, if not all the time, at least some of the time. A study by Asana found that 70% of knowledge workers reported experiencing burnout in 2020. Why is this the case? Are employers expecting too much? Are workers just not pushing back and setting boundaries to protect their work-life balance?
The answer to both these questions is yes. When workers fear losing their jobs because they are not meeting expectations, they will push themselves to meet unreasonable employer demands. However, since the COVID 19 pandemic, the labor market has changed. Workers are feeling empowered and are no longer accepting abusive work environments. The result is that employers are responding by listening to workers and accommodating their needs.
To combat feeling overwhelmed at work, learn your limits and develop the confidence to voice them to your manager. Being proactive and pushing back does not mean that you are less engaged in your work; it means that you are taking responsibility to avoid what could be a bad situation for you and your employer.
Let’s first look at some of the reasons you may be feeling overwhelmed at work and then examine what you can do to improve your situation.
Here are some reasons you are overwhelmed. As you read them, bear in mind that for some of them, accountability lies with you. Not pushing back, or not taking control, has created the situation that you find yourself in. However, you may also be feeling overwhelmed for reasons that are beyond your control.
Reasons that you can control
You have too much to do and not enough time.
Your deadlines are unmanageable.
You have said “yes” to too many new projects or requests.
You have accepted tasks outside of your job description.
You are not prioritizing your tasks.
Reasons that you cannot control
You do not have the tools you need to do your job well
You lack support from your manager or coworkers
Your workday includes lots of “urgent,” last-minute tasks
There are no clear processes and roles, and you are always unsure of what to do and who to talk to.
The above situations might sound like just another day at the office or home if you are a hybrid worker. So, what are the warning signs that you really could be on the brink of burnout? Here are a few of them.
Feeling constantly anxious about tasks, meetings, and deadlines.
Worrying about work all the time.
Feeling like you need to work longer hours to catch up.
Dreading coming to work.
Feeling pessimistic about the future and your ability to perform simple tasks.
Feeling physically, mentally, or emotionally exhausted.
Having trouble getting through the day.
Feeling depressed, that you are alone, and nobody can help you.
If any of the above ring true, it’s time to act. Your health and well-being depend on it. Here’s what you can do.
When you feel overwhelmed, it can be hard to see things objectively, let alone come up with a plan of action. Consider talking to a career coach about your work. Find a mentor. Also, lean on your family and friends and ask for their perspective. You will hear differing opinions, but it will help you get a better understanding of your situation, and having support is crucial to getting through tough times.
A career counselor can help you figure out what exactly is going on and suggest next steps. For example, does your employer have unreasonable expectations? Can you change the situation? Should you leave and look for a new job? Is there something going on in your personal life that affects your work and mental health?
Once you have a better grasp of how you became overwhelmed in the first place, it’s time to take action to balance the amount of work you have with the amount of time. First, prepare to talk to your manager about how you are feeling.
Feeling overwhelmed is not unusual, so don’t feel that you are alone. Your manager’s role is to help you do your job, support you, and give you the tools to succeed. But they can’t do that if you don’t communicate with them. So, take a deep breath and go for it.
Prepare for the meeting with your manager by writing down the situation you are in, the causes as you see them, and possible solutions.
Keep your solutions to no more than three. For example, if you are overloaded with work, the solution could be to have another staff member assigned to help you. Alternatively, you could be relieved of certain responsibilities. If you limit your solutions to no more than three, your manager is more likely to pick one.
However, if you offer a long list of solutions, the decision becomes more complex and is less likely to be resolved. Also, by providing solutions to your manager, you are also solving the problem for them.
When you discuss your situation with your manager. Make it clear that you are aware of your own responsibilities in managing your workload and time. Be sure to let your boss know that you are doing your best to practice good time management. Here are your responsibilities in that regard.
Prioritize your task list and make sure you clarify important tasks with your manager.
Set realistic due dates.
Break down big tasks into simpler, smaller tasks. Delegate and ask team members for help.
Set boundaries so that your work life does not encroach on your free time and cause burnout.
Practice self-care by taking short breaks. Get some fresh air during the workday, eat well, exercise, and make sure you're getting enough sleep.
What you ultimately do depends on how your manager responds to your situation. Did you feel that your concerns were taken seriously? Do you feel confident that there is a plan that will relieve some of the stress you are feeling? Did your manager suggest regular check-ins to determine if things are improving? If so, these are all excellent signs that you could be on your way to a more manageable situation.
However, if you sense that nothing will change, and the situation is out of your control, the bad news is that it could be time to seek new employment. Many companies have a culture where employee well-being is not a priority, and the result is usually high staff turnover. Staying and suffering in such a toxic environment is the last thing you should do because the culture is unlikely to change.
Talk to a professional career counselor who can help you transition to a new, healthier work environment that you deserve.
Pushing back at work is a difficult thing to do. Some people think they should be able to take on any number of challenges, but the reality is that we often take on too much. By learning our limits, setting boundaries, and respecting the need for work-life balance, we can stay healthy and accomplish more. It’s time for you to take control and do your best work ever.