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Overloaded at work? Here’s what you should do

You have more work than you can handle—and no matter how hard you work, you can’t seem to get ahead. In fact, it’s gotten to the point that you’re exhausted. Most days you don’t even like your job anymore.

If this sounds like you, it’s time to make a change. And that change doesn’t have to involve a new place of employment.

Instead, it’s time to assess your situation and come up with a solution.

Now but not later

First, you must determine if the situation is temporary.

Temporary spikes in the workload are typically related to changes you can point to: a merger with another practice; a new practice offering that hasn’t yet been fully integrated; a major change related to technology, such as new software; or significant changes to staff, like the loss of a key individual.

If the situation is temporary, you may still feel overloaded. However, under these circumstances, there will be relief in the near future. Nevertheless, it’s important to map out when your load will lighten and determine what steps you will take along the way to make sure that happens.

For example, a temporary situation may require additional work hours, for you and your staff. It may also require short-term assistance, such as temporary workers or help from an outside consultant.

Ideally, staffing needs should be addressed prior to a major change like a merger or a system conversion. But sometimes you can’t foresee the implications of change; until you’re immersed in a new situation, you don’t know what assistance you’ll require.

It’s not too late. You can and should ask for help now.

Make a case for the financial resources to get past whatever transitional phase your practice is going through. Ask for overtime pay for employees, approval to hire temporary staff or permission to contract with a consultant. Explain that the workload has increased beyond what was expected during this transition period and that assistance is essential in order to keep the practice running smoothly.

Don’t be afraid to own the responsibility for not anticipating the workload sooner, but don’t take full ownership. Say, “I don’t think any of us fully realized how much would be involved with this merger (or whatever the situation is).” Also offer specifics. “If the office staff works an additional five hours each week for the next three weeks, we’ll be in good shape.”

Now and later

What if the workload isn’t related to a temporary situation? What if this is business as usual, every single day?

Again, you should assess the situation.

First, take a look at why the workload has increased. Have you been given more responsibility? Has the practice grown without adding to staff? Have there been job cuts?

Answers to these questions will be useful if you have to speak with your boss. But before you schedule that conversation make sure you explore other solutions. These include opportunities to delegate, automate, and outsource.

Delegate. Managers are sometimes reluctant to delegate, for various reasons. Some believe only they have the knowledge and skills to perform certain tasks, while others worry about dumping on their staff. Like so much about managing, the answer usually lies somewhere in the middle.

Staff must be trained to successfully perform new tasks, and their current workload must be considered. However, research shows that employees want to acquire new skills and take on new responsibilities. It allows them to learn and grow, and it makes them feel valued.

With this in mind, review your job responsibilities and determine which tasks you can delegate.

Automate. Despite widespread use of technology, many offices are still bogged down in manual, time-consuming processes.

Take a close look at the tasks you and your staff regularly perform, with attention to ways these tasks can be simplified by using technology or improved through better utilization of technology.

When doing this, don’t underestimate small changes that add up. Thirty minutes saved each day equates to 1.5 hours per week and 6.45 hours per month—which is almost another full day of work per month.

Outsource. Look at the tasks you regularly perform, as well as those projects that occur frequently and seem to throw off your schedule because they take up so much time.

Accounting, payroll, employee handbook creation and updating, and employee benefits management are among the areas to consider outsourcing.

If you currently spend a significant amount of time devoted to a particular area, the expense associated with outsourcing may be easily justified. As important, a professional who is a true expert will bring a level of competence that will likely benefit the practice in other ways.

After you’ve delegated and automated, you may have lightened your load enough so that you don’t need to outsource. Nevertheless, outsourcing is still worth considering because of the “expert” factor, as well as the ongoing reduction in your workload. A lighter workload will allow you to better manage—and lead—your staff.

What if you’ve delegated, automated, and outsourced, and still can’t get out from under?

It’s time to talk to your boss. Make sure he or she knows about the steps you’ve already taken to try to resolve the matter. This will demonstrate the serious, ongoing nature of the situation, and show that you’re not reacting to a bad week. Then, ask for assistance.

It’s helpful, although not essential, to know what you’re seeking; for example, an addition to staff. Your relationship with your boss will dictate whether you suggest a solution. Remember, it’s perfectly acceptable to simply ask for help and let your boss come up with an answer. However, don’t be surprised if he or she asks what you recommend, which is why it’s good to have a solution in mind.

Regardless of the direction the conversation takes, make sure you have the conversation. Once you’ve tried everything else, you owe it to yourself, your staff, and the practice to address this critical situation. There’s no reason to shoulder your burden alone.

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