Sunday’s New York Times features a section called the Career Couch. Each week a pressing problem is offered for career advice. This week, the question was about handling the difficult situation when your boss adds more tasks to your workload than you have time to do properly. Read the full article here.
Career advice from experts can be summarized as:
(1) Tell your boss the consequences of adding an extra project. Other projects may be delayed. You may need additional help.
(2) Ask for help. For instance, “Maybe we can get someone from accounting to run these numbers.”
(3) Ask your boss to set the priorities. “I’m already working on A. Does B get priority?”
(4) Work long hours if the new product will enhance promotion opportunities within the company or make you more marketable.
(5) Keep your management updated, as often as once a week. That way your management has a realistic sense of your workload.
So … what do you think?
If I were offering career advice to a client, here’s what I might suggest.
First, study your boss’s agenda. Newspapers and magazines like to give the party line. So do consultants and coaches who are being quoted for print (and posterity).
The party line is that your boss means well and has the company interests at heart. The truth? Sometimes your boss wants you to fail. Sometimes your boss is under pressure and passing the pain around. Sometimes your boss honestly doesn’t know because circumstances have changed.
Watch for pushback. For instance, you say to the boss, “The project you assigned will take an extra 20 hours this week.” Your boss says, “No way. When I did that project six months ago, it just took 8 hours.”
These are the kinds of questions I would encourage you to ask – not necessarily out loud but to yourself:
Are you inefficient?
Is the boss factoring in genuine differences, such as your unfamiliarity with the task or a change in circumstances?
Are you valued as someone who can get it all done, on time and error-free?
If you’re getting a series of “no” answers to these questions, you should start seeing red flags. Unreasonable requests can mean that (a) your boss is a clone of Dilbert’s pointy-headed boss; (b) you’re being targeted for bad things to happen; and/or (c) something is very wrong with your company or department.
As always, the best career advice will be, “Study the company’s culture.”
… What do they value? Some companies place a high value on saying “yes” and overworking yourself till you’re sick or dead.
… Who gets rewarded?
… Who else is getting extra work? Are they the winners who go on to great things? Or the losers the bosses feel they can use with impunity?
Finally, you may not have the option to say no. I am not a lawyer. However, in an informal conversation, a lawyer told me that refusing to do work can be grounds for termination. Now, I don’t know if that lawyer was right. I don’t know what circumstances apply. But I would really, really think about saying “no,” especially if something is in your job description. Again, I’m not a lawyer and it is not my intent to give legal advice.
But speaking as a non-lawyer career consultant offering career advice from my experience, I would encourage you to go through the motions and do the best you can, if your boss refuses to let you off the hook. Then you may have to recognize that this career or job is coming to an end. Think of how you can give it a decent burial while moving on to your next life.
If you’d like to get some career advice via one-to-one consulting, you can hire me for a single-shot Career Strategy Session. https://midlifecareerstrategy.com/careerstrategysession.html