Talking to the Boss About Easing Your Workload

Talking to your boss Suzy Meyer, 25, once worked as a hotel manager. “We were very short staffed. I worked 10 days on with none off.”

Then her boss approached her to work two extra days a week on a regular basis. “I know you need my help, but I would need some time off,” Meyer says she told her manager.

She never got the time off and decided to return to school, where she is now pursuing her master’s in human resource management.

Workers who have survived layoffs but also gained extra work are feeling overworked in the recession. Many fail to confront their boss on this or other issues for fear of losing their jobs.

How can an employee constructively complain to a higher-up without being shown the door? It’s a fine line to walk, but improving your communication skills can help you navigate this minefield, experts say.

“It has to be done very tactfully,” says JoAnna Brandi, an expert in customer and employee retention in Boca Raton, Fla.

Brandi suggests employees be proactive in communication with their boss, asking, “How often would you like me to check back on this project?” Or if a worker is being presented with an unrealistic project or deadline: “I’m not sure I can get all this done in the next two weeks. Could you help me prioritize?”

When Brandi was managing a corporate team, a salesman came to her for a chat and she continued sorting mail while he was talking. The salesman took the initiative to improve their communication by saying, “JoAnna, I know that it’s probably possible for you to have a conversation with me and sort mail while you’re doing that, but it feels like you’re not paying attention to me.”

She never tried to multitask in front of an employee again. “He told me how my behavior made him feel,” Brandi says. Use “I” words instead of “you” in making your complaint to your boss. “It’s that ability to speak of your own needs that doesn’t cause defensive behavior in another,” Brandi says.

Bob Preziosi, a professor of management at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Fla., suggests employees rehearse what they’re going to say to a boss with a friend, spouse or partner. “You’ve got to think it through real carefully, what the problem is and represent it as it’s ‘my problem,’ that it’s not an attempt to blame the boss or the organization,” he says.

Pick a good time of day to talk with your boss, when he or she tends to be energized. Be brief in your complaint and back it up with data. “This is not a time to tip-toe around the tulips. Go right for it: ‘During the first quarter of 2009, I was working 40 hours a week, now it’s 60. I’m not getting any more done because I’m worn out,'” Preziosi said.

Avoid a heated discussion with your boss. “Never push so hard you’re putting your job at risk,” Preziosi cautions. “Let your boss decide when the conversation is over. It’s important for your boss to say, ‘Thanks. We’ll talk about this some more.'”

If your boss says he or she will think about the issue, send an e-mail in about a half hour saying, “Thanks for your time. I appreciate you listening to me.”

Asked about the issue of overworking employees in these economic times, some chief executives say they, too, are working more these days.

Coleen Sterns Leith, president of Marketing Matters, a public relations and marketing firm in Hollywood, Fla., says she was honest with her team about the slowdown in business last year, telling them exactly the revenue needed to stay afloat. “Everybody truly stepped up to the plate,” she says.

She still had to do layoffs. Today, the firm is smaller but business has picked up. That means she’s more hands-on and everyone is working more. But the employees who are left “have the attitude of ‘whatever it takes. This is an opportunity for me to move forward,'” Leith says.

Juan Rodriguez, 34, of Miami says he has learned how to communicate with his boss, instead of venting around the water cooler.

“I’m in constant communication with my boss,” says Rodriguez, a financial analyst. “We meet twice a week to discuss where we’re at. We bounce ideas off one another. We work as a team.”

SOURCE: Sun Sentinel. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (c) 2010.