April 25, 2010
Overworked? Tell the boss -- tactfully
Suzy Meyer, 25, once worked as a hotel manager. “We were very short-staffed,” she says. “I worked 10 days on with none off.”
Then her boss approached her to work two extra days a week on a regular basis. “I know you need my help, but I would need some time off,” Meyer says she told her manager.
She never got the time off and decided to return to school, where she is now pursuing her master’s degree in human-resource management.
Workers who have survived layoffs but also gained extra work are likely feeling overworked in the recession. Many fail to confront their boss on this or other issues for fear of losing their jobs.
How can employees constructively complain to a higher-up without being shown the door? It’s a fine line to walk, but improving your communication skills can help you navigate this minefield, experts say.
“It has to be done very tactfully,” says JoAnna Brandi, an expert in customer and employee retention in Boca Raton, Fla.
Make the first move
Brandi suggests being proactive in communication with your boss, asking, “How often would you like me to check back on this project?” Or, if you’re presented with an unrealistic project or deadline: “I’m not sure I can get all this done in the next two weeks. Could you help me prioritize?”
When Brandi was managing a corporate team, a salesman came to her for a chat and she continued sorting mail while he was talking. The salesman took the initiative to improve their communication by saying, “JoAnna, I know that it’s probably possible for you to have a conversation with me and sort mail while you’re doing that, but it feels like you’re not paying attention to me.”
She never tried to multitask in front of an employee again. “He told me how my behavior made him feel,” Brandi says.
The appeal of “I”
Use “I” words instead of “you” when making a complaint to your boss. “It’s that ability to speak of your own needs that doesn’t cause defensive behavior in another,” Brandi says.
Bob Preziosi, a management professor at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Fla., suggests rehearsing what you’re going to say to a boss with a friend, spouse or partner.
“You’ve got to think it through real carefully, what the problem is, and represent it as ‘it’s my problem’ (and) not an attempt to blame the boss or the organization,” he says.
Pick a good time of day to talk with your boss, when he or she tends to be energized. Be brief in your complaint and back it up with data. “This is not a time to tiptoe around the tulips. Go right for it: ‘During the first quarter of 2009, I was working 40 hours a week; now it’s 60. I’m not getting any more done because I’m worn out,’ ” Preziosi says.
Keep conflict in check
Avoid a heated discussion with your boss. “Never push so hard you’re putting your job at risk,” Preziosi says. “Let your boss decide when the conversation is over. It’s important for your boss to say, ‘Thanks. We’ll talk about this some more.’ ”
If your boss says he or she will think about the issue, send an e-mail in about a half-hour saying, “Thanks for your time. I appreciate you listening to me.”
Juan Rodriguez, 34, of Miami, says he has learned how to communicate with his boss instead of venting around the water cooler.
“I’m in constant communication with my boss,” says Rodriguez, a financial analyst. “We meet twice a week to discuss where we’re at. We bounce ideas off one another. We work as a team.”
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