Leaders Plus Community Q&AWorking Parents

How to talk to your boss about your workload

Community Q&A - How to talk to your boss about your workload

Last week, I facilitated a workshop for our Leaders Plus Fellows. One of the Fellow asked: what advice do you have for talking to your boss about your workload? I am sharing what I told her on here in case it is useful.


  1. Prepare: what is the root cause of your workload issue? Is it that you reduced your role from full time to part time but you are expected to deliver like a full time person? Is it that you receive lots of last minute requests? Does it look like everything in your role is really important and there is lack of clarity around critical things and nice to haves? You should know what the most important deliverable is in your role.
  2. Start the conversation with how committed you are to your work. A study by the Fawcett society found that 40% of women are seen as less committed by their employer once they have children, so be vocal about your commitment to counter act this: “e.g. I am really passionate about our work and want to excel. I want to chat to you about how to make it work so I can add the most value to the organisation”.
  3. When you meet with your boss, name that there is a workload issue and describe the impact it has e.g. “at the moment, the way the workload is designed is not feasible, this carries the risk that major deliverables could be missed and it is also impacting on my family life as I take work home. I have some ideas of solutions and would like to explore those with you”.
  4. In the meeting, describe your view of the root cause and check if they see it as the same: “I think this role has too many deliverables to be feasible, I propose that we prioritise the deliverables we want to excel in and make it clear which ones aren’t that important. What do you think?”. Or: “our priorities change frequently and I want to do my best, and so I work extra hard trying to meet everything which perhaps isn’t what you expect”.
  5. Look at what outcomes you are responsible for and identify which of those are nice to have and which are critical. There may only be one or two metrics that are absolutely essential. If your role has too many outcomes to be achieved, discuss with your boss which ones are essential and which can be removed.
  6. In my experience, a common root cause is that individuals want to do everything perfectly which isn’t what the organisation is asking for. If that is the case, say to your boss: “I am an individual who by default will want to excel in all objectives, but true excellence is about being outstanding in a few things and be good enough in others. It would help me excel if I knew exactly which outcomes need to be excelled in. Here is a list of my deliverables and here are the three that I think you want me to really go for this quarter and the other six that I think you want me to do at a good enough standard. Is this correct?”
  7. Financial solutions: depending on the nature of your organisation, while your employer may not find it easy to allow for budget spend on salaries, they may find it easy to agree money for freelance support during a pressurised period. Also, if you have gone down from fulltime to part time, can the money saved be used to hire an assistant part time or ongoing freelance support?
  8. Practical solutions: if your job has peaks and troughs, can you get support from another team for a short term. Can you delay some deliverables?
  9. Agree to review it regularly. A practical way to do it that doesn’t require a lot of effort from your boss is that at the end of every week, share the priorities and ‘unpriorities’ for the upcoming week with your boss together with what you have achieved to ensure alignment.

If you are nervous about any of the above, that’s normal. But you must have the conversation because the consequence of you not having it is burning out or not enjoying your job and family life as much. It can help to make the conversation easier if you constantly repeat your aim or purpose e.g. by saying “I know I can do a brilliant job in this role and XYZ will help me to do so”.

Wherever possible, come with solutions as your boss has a lot on her plate and may not have the answers. It can help if you give options so your boss feels they can feed in.

If the root cause is about having too many outcomes to achieve, using words such as ‘job design’   can help your manager understand that we need to reevaluate the role.

Show at all times that you understand the aims of the organisation and what your boss is trying to achieve and your role within that. If not, ask e.g. “what one thing could this role achieve that would make the biggest difference to the organisation?” Or: “what are the most important things the executive board have on their agenda now, and how can this role contribute to it?”

I hope this helps, let me know if you have other suggestions of how to deal with workload issues. Verena



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