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Being Silently Overworked is Overwhelming

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When projects at work become overwhelming, its not uncommon to seek assistance from employees. But what happens when their workload is just as hefty?a

AccelaWork’s Robby Slaughter offered advice on how to get help from an overworked employee.  According to Slaughter, clear communication about your exact situation is key:

When you approach the person, you might have to let him know about your heavy workload, because others often don’t know.

. . .

If they’re not overworked they want you not to be either so that everyone is contributing fairly.

Sharing the workload isn’t just about fairness either. It’s about success. If the organization has built a healthy culture, each team member will recognize that the occasional shifts in workload are necessary for the company to achieve its goals. The individual team member will take little comfort in not being overworked if the project fails because another team member had too much on his/her plate.

Unfortunately, many organizations, knowingly or not, create cultures where team members feel like the Lone Ranger and “help” really is a four-letter word. In these cultures, workers inevitably experience high degrees of frustration and burnout. This leads to a high rate of turnover for the company, and eventually, failure.


© Flickr user Matt

Here are three simple rules of thumb about asking for help at work. Knowing and practicing these can save careers and organizations:

  1. Exhaust all options. Many times people ask for help when they don’t really need it. They call on co-workers before they’ve adequately tried to work through a problem themselves. That creates a “boy who cried wolf” dynamic within a team. When there’s a simple solution that a little investigation would have discovered, co-workers can feel like the one asking for help is either incompetent or wasting their precious time. Over time, that breeds resentment and a likelihood that help won’t be there when there really is a problem that needs to be solved.
  2. Sacrifice isn’t popular in the break room. Some workers stuck in a problem will purposefully push themselves to the brink looking for a solution…and make sure everybody else knows about it! This is the team member who stays up until 2 a.m. looking for a solution they never find and then comes to work the next day complaining about being exhausted. In this story, another team member usually pipes up with the solution and says, “If you’d have just asked, you’d have saved yourself a lot of trouble.” This behavior, when it becomes a pattern also creates resentment among team members. Remember, industrious and effective workers don’t waste valuable time (theirs and the company’s) pridefully searching for an answer that could be at another’s fingertips. It’s not a good look.
  3. Keep your notes. When a worker realizes it’s finally time to ask for help, there’s no need to show up at the boss’s door or the co-worker’s desk waving a white flag. Instead, come prepared to share what’s already been done to attempt to solve the problem and where the current roadblock is. Asking for help at work isn’t about dumping work onto someone else’s plate, and it’s not about delegating any responsibility. It’s about collaborating to find a solution. The best way to start off a conversation about asking for help is to review what steps have already been taken. That avoids any unnecessary repeats of failed attempts or backtracking. The combined power of the team can pick up the process at the sticking point and find a way forward.

When workers feel overwhelmed by workloads, it’s easy to forget the importance of teamwork. It’s up to organizations to build a culture that rewards individuals who tap into the potential of the team instead of stubbornly going alone. AccelaWork can help your organization improve its culture and create one where employees engage with each other.


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