I’ll start with a surprise by saying: it’s a good thing when employees admit they have too much work. Let’s start from the beginning. In a general sense, we live in overloaded times - we suffer from too much information, too many responsibilities, too many advertisements, and so on. Even when the world seems to come to a halt, job overload can affect employees who are now doing the work of two people at once because their co-worker was laid off or the company needs to immediately change course or switch out production lines.
Being responsible for too much, especially if it lasts too long (e.g. a month or longer), will ultimately result in decreased productivity, lack of satisfaction and motivation, and thus diminished results. It also risks the employee burning out, going on sick leave, or even quitting, which any rational boss would prefer to avoid.
So why do I say that it’s a good thing when employees say: “Boss, I can’t handle it...”
Positive aspects of the situation
First, because the person has the courage to say it. This is very important in terms of both normal human communication and further mentoring an employee in a given position. It’s very important that the employee be able to communicate honestly with their manager, rather than complaining to co-workers, for example.
Secondly, the boss should try to make sure the employee doesn’t take work home regularly, doesn’t turn on the computer at 11.00 pm, and doesn’t work 10-11 hours a day for weeks on end. If a certain position was poorly planned and has too many responsibilities, the supervisor should know about it right away so that they can intervene.
Third - and especially important for the employee - excessive workload can mean that the employee is doing important things for the organisation and that their bosses trust them. If they were less important to the company, their workload could be cut in half or transferred to someone else.
And lastly, when an employee admits that they’re in over their head, it gives their manager a chance to take a closer look at the employee’s work, spend time with them, observe what they do, talk about priorities, and ultimately strengthen their relationship. If the manager supports the employee and together they are able to resolve the situation positively, this will build even greater trust between them and will boost their self-esteem.
So, when we hear from a subordinate: “Boss, I can’t handle it”, we should treat it first and foremost as an opportunity to talk and to improve processes. You should thank the employee for sharing their feelings, thus promoting open communication.
Examples of how to handle the situation
Let’s move on to the second aspect of this situation, i.e. how to fix the problem. The employee may be having trouble because they’re working too slowly and organising their day poorly. Perhaps, instead of simply doing what they’re supposed to, they are constantly analysing whether their work makes sense, gossiping, and getting distracted, unable to set priorities...The list of employee shortcomings that can stand in the way of achieving the goal is practically endless. The same is true for the shortcomings of the organisation itself (improper tools, constantly changing guidelines) or of the supervisor (unclear communication, being unavailable to answer questions).