Is Your Workload Out of Control? (2024)

Key points

  • Forty-nine percent of the 1,200 women we surveyed told us they struggled with setting boundaries.
  • Many women need support with saying "no" and advocating for themselves.
  • Leaders can encourage open dialogues in which employees feel comfortable discussing their boundaries.

We know from our recent research that one of the key roadblocks standing in the way of women’s career progression is an inability to say "no" or set boundaries. Forty-nine percent of the 1,200 women we surveyed told us they struggled with this, 55 percent said they took on more work than they should, and 45 percent identified as people pleasers.

It’s clear from these statistics that many women need support with saying "no" and advocating for themselves. Very often, saying "no" is just the first step. Even for women who feel comfortable saying "no" and setting boundaries, the discomfort usually arises when someone pushes back on that no or disrespects the boundary.

And what do you do when the person pushing back is your manager?

Dealing with a manager who consistently ignores your boundaries can be challenging. However, rather than slipping into conflict-avoidant or people-pleasing behaviours, it's crucial to advocate for yourself and establish a healthy working relationship.

Here are 10 practical tips to help you push back assertively and set boundaries with a manager:

  1. Clearly define your priorities. Before engaging in a conversation with your manager, take the time to define your priorities. Understand which tasks align with your goals and which stretch you beyond your capacity. By clearly identifying your priorities, you'll have a solid foundation to support your pushback.
  2. Be prepared and confident. Approach the conversation with your manager confidently and be prepared to articulate your reasons for pushing back. Anticipate potential counterarguments or objections and be ready to provide logical explanations for your decision. Confidence and preparation will enhance your credibility and increase the likelihood of your manager taking your concerns seriously.
  3. Use "I" statements. When expressing your position, use "I" statements to convey your perspective without sounding confrontational. For example, say, "I feel overwhelmed with my current workload, and taking on additional tasks would compromise the quality of my work," rather than placing blame or accusing your manager of overloading you.
  4. Offer alternatives. Instead of simply saying "no," setting boundaries with your manager is about providing alternatives that accommodate both your limitations and the needs of the team or organisation. Propose alternative solutions, such as reallocating resources, adjusting deadlines, or seeking additional support, to demonstrate your commitment to finding a mutually beneficial resolution.
  5. Provide evidence and data. Support your pushback with factual evidence and data whenever possible. Present quantifiable information that highlights your current workload, time constraints, or the potential impact on other projects. This data-driven approach adds credibility to your position and makes it harder for your manager to dismiss your concerns.
  6. Seek support from colleagues. If multiple team members are facing similar challenges, consider discussing the issue collectively with your manager. Presenting a united front can reinforce the importance of your concerns and demonstrate that the workload issue is not isolated to one individual. Strength in numbers can lead to a more impactful conversation.
  7. Document and track your workload. Maintain a record of your tasks, deadlines, and time spent on each project. This documentation can serve as evidence of your workload when engaging in discussions with your manager. It also helps you visualise your capacity and identify areas where adjustments or delegations are necessary.
  8. Request a one-on-one meeting. If your manager consistently disregards your pushback in group settings, request a private one-on-one meeting. This dedicated time allows for a more focused conversation in which you can express your concerns without interruptions or distractions. A personal setting may encourage a more empathetic response from your manager.
  9. Know your rights and company policies. Familiarise yourself with your rights and company policies regarding workload distribution, overtime, and work-life balance. Understanding these guidelines can strengthen your position and provide you with a basis for asserting your boundaries. Refer to specific policies or agreements that support your pushback, if applicable.
  10. Consider escalation options. If your manager continues to ignore your pushback and persistently overloads you with work, it may be necessary to consider escalation options within your organisation. This could involve reaching out to human resources, seeking guidance from a mentor or trusted senior colleague, or exploring internal channels for conflict resolution. Be mindful of the potential consequences and use these options as a last resort. But if your well-being and mental health are being challenged because of your unmanageable workload or insistent manager, then you absolutely must take care of yourself and seek the support you need.

5 Tips for Leaders

  1. Create a culture of open communication. Encourage open dialogues where employees, especially women, feel comfortable discussing their workloads and boundaries. Foster an environment where setting boundaries is seen as a sign of self-awareness and effective time management.
  2. Lead by example. Demonstrate healthy boundary-setting behaviours as a leader. Share your experiences of setting limits, saying no, and maintaining work-life balance to inspire and normalise these actions within the team.
  3. Promote training and development. Offer training or women’s leadership development programs—such as the Women Rising program—which teach assertive communication, managing up, and setting boundaries. Equip women with the skills and confidence they need to navigate difficult conversations and prioritise effectively.
  4. Recognise and reward boundary management. Acknowledge and celebrate employees who excel at setting boundaries and maintaining their well-being. Incorporate boundary management into performance evaluations to emphasise its importance and value within the organisation.
  5. Don’t overload your people with unmanageable workloads. It is a critical responsibility of every manager to make sure that your team is not overloaded with more work than they can handle. Ensure you have a detailed understanding of the tasks for every person you lead, and take steps to realign the work when needed so that no one is facing undue pressure.


About the Author

Megan Dalla-Camina is the founder and CEO of Women Rising.

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Is Your Workload Out of Control? (2024)


How to answer how is your workload? ›

Sample Answer

There were days when the call volume seemed impossible to keep up with, but overall, the workload at my last job was manageable. My team communicated and worked well together to stay on top of things and adapt during the busy rushes, which I believe was good preparation for my next fast-paced job.

How to answer interview questions about managing workload? ›

Offer an example.

Cite an example of a similar situation in which you were faced with a heavy workload, what you did (i.e., the tasks you completed and why you chose those), and the results you achieved. This shows that you can handle this interview question—and a heavy workload, too!

What to say when a boss asks about workload? ›

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”. Look at what outcomes you are responsible for and identify which of those are nice to have and which are critical.

How do you prove your workload is too much? ›

Provide specific examples. When telling your boss that your workload is too heavy, providing clear examples of assignments that feel overwhelming can help guide the conversation. It is also important to identify specific details of your projects, such as deadlines, that are challenging.

How do you respond to work overload? ›

Here are nine ways to better manage a heavy workload:
  1. Determine your priorities. ...
  2. Itemize your work responsibilities. ...
  3. Know your limits. ...
  4. Develop an organizational strategy. ...
  5. Take a break. ...
  6. Collaborate and communicate with your team. ...
  7. Focus on one thing at a time. ...
  8. Schedule your tasks.
Aug 31, 2023

How do you handle your daily workload? ›

7 steps for prioritizing your workload
  1. Write down all of your tasks.
  2. Determine which tasks are truly important.
  3. Stick to a schedule that reflects your priority tasks.
  4. Tackle your most intense, high-effort tasks first.
  5. Focus on one task at a time (hint: try not to multitask)
Dec 5, 2023

How do you say workload is heavy? ›

Try this: “I've been having some trouble keeping up with the amount of things on my plate right now, and was hoping we could talk about my role in [item you'd like to delegate] and [other item], since these things are taking up a significant amount of time.”

How do you manage workload effectively? ›

Workload management strategies include task list prioritization, effective delegation, setting realistic deadlines, conducting regular team meetings, and adopting agile methodologies. These strategies collectively contribute to optimizing team efficiency and enhancing project management.

How do I professionally say I am overworked? ›

You might say something like: “My current workload is not allowing me to perform at my top ability. I would like to do [NEW PLAN], so I have the time to strategize, conceptualize and submit quality work for you and the business.” Real talk: at some point in their careers, everyone has felt overwhelmed.

How much is too much workload? ›

One study found that working more than 61 hours a week increased an employee's risk of experiencing high systolic blood pressure and caused issues like fatigue and stress. Overworking exacerbates mental health issues, too.

How to deal with unmanageable workload? ›

Prioritise important responsibilities

Some tasks and responsibilities are more important than others and realising this aids good workload management. Identify tasks that are valuable or beneficial and prioritise them over others. That way, you can focus your attention on an individual task and feel more productive.

What is an unreasonable workload? ›

Some examples of unreasonable demands in the workplace include: Deadlines that don't allow you enough time to complete the work. Low budgets that can't meet project requirements. Requests to run personal errands for your manager.

What is acceptable workload? ›

"Acceptable workload" refers to the amount of work that an individual or a team can handle without experiencing excessive stress, burnout, or negative impacts on their health and well-being. It varies depending on factors such as job complexity, time constraints, available resources, and individual capabilities.

How do I professionally say you are not my boss? ›

I respect your perspective, but I am obliged to follow my current project guidelines. Your opinion is appreciated, yet I must comply with the approach decided by my boss. I acknowledge your recommendation, however, I must act according to the tasks assigned by my superior.

How do you describe work load? ›

the amount of work that a machine, employee, or group of employees can be or is expected to perform.

How did you feel about your workload sample answer? ›

Answer Example

"I fully understand that my workload will increase from time to time and I easily accept that. Personally, I prefer it when times are busy, so I do not mind an increase in workload now and then."

How do you answer "How do you organize your workload?"? ›

How to answer "How do you prioritize your work?"
  1. Describe how you schedule your day. ...
  2. Explain how you shift between priorities. ...
  3. Discuss how you set your deadlines. ...
  4. Tell how you maintain work-life balance. ...
  5. Connect your answer to the job requirements.
Oct 17, 2023

How am I managing my workload? ›

The five-step guide to workload management
  1. Figure out your team's workload and capacity. ...
  2. Allocate resources and break down individual workloads. ...
  3. Check in with your team members and adjust workloads as needed. ...
  4. Improve team efficiency when workloads are heavy. ...
  5. Onboard a work management tool.
Feb 4, 2024

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