Have you ever stormed into your boss' office and blared out: "I'm overwhelmed"?
It's a declaration more employees are considering after being stretched to the limits. With business picking up but employers still reluctant to hire, many workers find themselves with too many things that need to be done at once; others are responsible for tasks they're not skilled to do well.
A recent Harris Interactive study reports that more than 80 percent of those surveyed are feeling workplace stress. The top cause: an unreasonable workload caused by recession staff cuts.
John Swartz, regional director of career services at Everest College, which commissioned the survey, said although the economy has improved, choices that employers made three and four years ago are taking a toll on employees. "If 83 percent of workers are stressed, someone will reach a breaking point," he said.
Rather than wait for a disaster, you need to talk to your boss -- and take the right approach.
Career experts say whether or not the boss will react favorably depends on how you present your situation, how much effort you're putting into your job and whether you come in with a solution.
"The cause of overwhelm has to be something specific that can be addressed," Miami executive coach Margarita Plasencia explained. "Otherwise it comes off as whiney."
Introspection can help you set the right tone, she says. Once you've taken stock of the situation, you're ready to address the problem with your boss.
"You want to speak to the boss in a manner that exudes confidence," Ms. Plasencia said. Most importantly, she advised, let the boss know what you need from him. "You want to bring a solution, not a problem. Most often, the boss is overwhelmed, too."
Still, awkward moments can ensue. "If it's handled poorly, a boss can look at [the complaints] as someone who is not putting in enough effort, or not being a team player," said Scott Moss, president of Moss Construction in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which has 240 employees and projects spanning the Southeast. But for hardworking employees focused on company goals, keeping your mouth shut and missing deadlines or making mistakes is worse, he said.
Cali Yost, author of "Tweak It" and an expert on work-life dialogue, says while a boss can help set assignment priorities, it's up to each of us to set our life priorities. Once we're clear on them, we can make small adjustments to get the sense of overwhelm under control rather than reacting drastically, she says.
"The real reason people disengage or quit their jobs is an accumulation of small frustrations," she said. She advises people to speak up before the situation becomes a powder keg. Ask for small changes that can lessen the load, like a more efficient computer program, a shift in work hours or a scheduled weekly priority meeting.
"People have to partner with their employers."
Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC; firstname.lastname@example.org