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Thursday, April 24, 2008

can I vent about workload?

A reader writes:

I work at a small nonprofit gallery as the office manager. With a staff of only 9 people, it's critical that everyone is here to assist with each other's projects (especially on board meeting days). Well, today is one of those days: we are in crisis, the board members' books aren't ready, the curator is trying to put up a show for Friday, three people are out of the office for meetings and such, the press is calling about the upcoming show, and on top of that we are trying to get ready for our really busy summer season. I'm running about 4 hours behind in terms of work that is critical today. Is it appropriate that so many responsibilities need to be given to just one employee (especially if the employee is the lowest ranking one) and also is it ever appropriate to send your boss a venting email detailing what the actual situation is rather than what they perceive?

I wouldn't use an email to address this. I also wouldn't just vent, but rather try a more constructive approach: Once the current situation is over and things are calmer, ask to meet with your boss. Ask her for clarification about how she expects those sorts of situations to be handled: Does she expect others to pitch in or should you solely responsible? If she expects others to pitch in, ask if she'd be willing to ask people to be in the office and available before board meeting days (and other crisis points) and to be make her expectations clear to them. If she says it's really your job to handle it all and you shouldn't count on help for others, then there are two possibilities: (1) She's being unreasonable, possibly because she doesn't fully understand the amount of work involved, or (2) her expectation is reasonable, and while the bar may be high, it's not crazy to expect the person in your role to meet it. I have no idea which one it is, of course, but usually in your situation people assume it's #1 without ever considering #2. So don't overlook #2 as a legitimate possibility.

If you're sure she's being unreasonable (and I mean really sure), try explaining to her the amount of work that's involved, why planning ahead doesn't solve it, and what the impact is on the office. But if there's a chance she's not being unreasonable, tell her you've been struggling to juggle everything and ask how she's seen people handle it successfully in the past. Listen with an open mind -- maybe changing details of your approach,or getting some things out of the way earlier or simply pushing through some things faster would help. Maybe there are short-cuts that are okay to take. Maybe she'll tell you everyone struggles in the beginning but after a few situations like the one you just went through, they get the hang of it. Hard to predict what she'll say, but whatever her answers is, it should give you more information to help you figure out how to proceed. Good luck!


almostgotit said...

Best advice here: Don't send that email!!!

I also like the reasonable/unreasonable boss approach. Clever! I wonder if it would be even more clever to avoid making the distinction at all, and just start out with the addressing-boss-as-if-she-IS-reasonable approach that AskAManager outlines so well. Whether or not she actually is reasonable, flattering her and deferring to her in this way may be just the thing to get results.

It also may help clarify how reasonable a person she is. If she fails to respond to a measured, respectful request, and you know you've really done your best to be both kind and clear with her, then definitely time for plan "B." (which, sadly, still doesn't mean sending a pissy email. Sorry. Never. And I mean that! Not for HER sake, either, but for yours!!) Good luck!