If you’ve ever been in the position of dealing with a difficult boss, you are not alone. Employee surveys show that more than 75 percent of employees say they have a bad boss. And 50 percent of employees with problem bosses leave their jobs within a year. If you find yourself constantly wondering why “the boss keeps dumping work on me”, and feeling like you’re being taken advantage of at work, you probably have a bad boss.
While employees can be less than stellar at work as well, when it’s the boss, there’s a more unequal power dynamic and employees can be left feeling helpless, hopeless, and vulnerable. That’s not good for anyone’s mental health, wellbeing, or career development. The authors of “The Toxic Boss Survival Guide” know this, as they write about the “seemingly overwhelming and debilitating presence” of bad bosses.
Authors Craig Chappelow, Peter Ronayne, and Bill Adams say working with a toxic boss creates many unpleasant affects including fear and anxiety, mental fatigue, boredom, interrupted sleep, and loneliness. These affect employees not only at work, but in every aspect of life and can build up to intolerable levels if not addressed and relieved. Each aspect of working with a bad boss has remedies that employees can use to cope and ward off the worst effects if positive action is taken.
What should I do if my boss keeps dumping work on me?
Set Limits and Stand Firm
If you find yourself constantly overwhelmed with more work than you can complete, impossible deadlines, priorities constantly changed without reason, and feelings of burnout, you definitely need to take action. It may not feel like you can do anything about a boss (or multiple bosses if you report to more than one) who dumps work on you routinely, but constant burnout is unsustainable. Alison Greene of Ask A Manager knows that taking an immediate assertive stance is necessary to alleviate the unbearable stress and take some control over the situation.
She advises calmly but confidently explaining what you can and can’t accomplish in the timelines given, with a suggestion for how the extra workload can be tackled at a different time. Greene says the key is to be vigilant about what you can realistically get done in a 40 hour work week and stick to it – a lame attempt with no follow up will only get you in deeper and not prompt any change at all.
Explain your work plans clearly with parameters. For example: “I can do the Excel project and the draft the presentations this week, or the Excel project and the five press releases, but I can’t get them all done this week. I was planning to do as much as I can on the Excel project and presentations by Friday, then plan new projects for next week. Let me know if you want to change deadlines and due dates.”
Follow up is important with phrases like “Please remember that we set the priority as the Excel project for the sales leadership summit needs, which haven’t changed. If I have competing work added to that timeframe, not everything will get done.” Being assertive and confident in your communications about workload and timelines, and vigilantly following up are important to change the dynamic when you’re being taken advantage of at work.
Pick the Right Time and Be Diplomatic
When you’re thinking “why does the boss keep dumping work on me?” it can be tempting to march right up and get in his or her face and rant about it. Or you may feel yourself losing control and getting angry, wanting to tell off the boss in an epic office scene. Constantly being overloaded with work and impossible deadlines can make anyone feel out of control, angry, or at their wit’s end.
But remind yourself that none of these solutions will have any productive outcome for you or your boss, and may just solve your problem completely by getting you fired. Self-control is important in working relationships, and especially when you are being taken advantage of at work. But self-control doesn’t mean ignoring the problem, just accepting it without any action, or avoiding dealing with it.
CNBC makeit contributor J.T. O’Donnell recommends waiting for the right time to address your boss dumping work on you and using the “ask don’t tell” method of addressing the situation.
It’s important to address the matter as soon as possible when confronted with an unreasonable workload. But don’t confront your boss angrily in front of clients, team mates, or company leaders. Wait for a time you can have a quick word and then use questions such as “Can you help me understand the timelines on this project?” or “Could you walk me through the priorities for the three big tasks you assigned to me earlier?”
This is asking for direction and clarification, rather than demanding change or complaining about the assignment. It should be done in a calm and respectful way, without anger or sarcasm, in a genuinely inquisitive way, to understand expectations and clarify reasonable ways to accomplish what is needed. It’s a strategic way to get the boss to understand the time available and ability to complete the work.
Being diplomatic and reasonable and asking for clarification rather than just complaining about the delegation or demanding changes creates collaboration instead of alienation. It strengthens rather than weakens or destroys the working relationship, showing that you want to understand and meet expectations while also enabling the boss to understand any shortcomings in the delegation. Talking it out with the boss can help you both to understand the true scope of the work and possibly find additional resources to get things done, such as partnering with a team mate or getting authorized overtime pay.
Read Up About It
When you’re dealing with a bad boss who overloads you with work and you just don’t feel like you can do anything about it, reading up about it can give you the information, strategies, and confidence you need to understand your situation and take positive action. The following books explain bad bosses and what to do about them:
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to working with a bad boss, but in A Survival Guide for Working with Bad Bosses, Gini Scott outlines 34 bad boss descriptions with classifications and case studies and offers solutions for the scenarios. Her guidelines may help you figure out your own bad boss/overworked employee problems and give you some ideas for solving them and saving your wellbeing and job.
Robert I. Sutton delves into how bosses impact the workplace in Good Boss, Bad Boss, and defines what makes a good or a bad boss. While not offering much in the way of advice about dealing with bad bosses, he helps the reader understand bosses and recognize the way bad bosses make people sick. He examines research around the world about the effects bad bosses have on their employees’ mental and physical health.
In Managing Your Manager, Gonzague Dufour explain managerial types so employees can understand their bosses and work with their personalities. People are individuals and not so easy to put in strict descriptive boxes, but DuFour’s explanations will help employees better understand the bosses they have to develop better working relationships. You may recognize your boss in one of the six common managerial types DuFour talks about: the Bully, the Good, the Kaleidoscope, the Star, the Scientist, the Navel.
There’s no doubt that a boss who keeps dumping work on you can make you miserable. In Dealing with the Boss from Hell, Shaun Belding gives practical advice on working with a bad boss. He discusses being confrontational, trying to re-educate a bad boss, and employee relations and productivity for those who are trying to improve their work situations. It’s a good read for human resources managers too.
- Here’s How to Deal with a Boss You Hate (Without Quitting!)
- Boss Criticizes My Personality: How To Handle Negative Criticisms
- Boss Talks About Me to Other Employees: 11 Ways to Handle a Gossiping Boss
- How To Say No When Work Calls You In
- 21 Signs Your Boss is Threatened By You
It’s Not Easy
It’s never easy when you feel overwhelmed and unappreciated at work, but it helps to try to understand your boss. And there are effective ways to deal with boss/employee working relationships so that you can preserve your mental and physical wellbeing and be productive at your job. It’s well worth working on your relationship with your boss, especially when you feel like you’re being taken advantage of at work.