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overwhelmed at work

Overwhelmed at Work? How to Express Your Stress and Get the Help You Need

by | May 31, 2024 | Asking For a Friend Featured, By Karin Hurt |

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Powerful phrases to talk about being overwhelmed at work
(without sounding like a complainer)

Have you ever looked at your to-do list and just laughed? You think, “Right, that’s not happening.” But moments later, you realize that none of the tasks on your list are optional. Perhaps that’s the point that your nervous laughter turns to tears. You want to be productive and a team player, but you’re completely overwhelmed at work.

What Do I Do When I’m Overwhelmed at Work? (Asking for a Friend)

overwhelmed at work

Powerful Phrases to Gain Clarity About What’s Most Important

Clear communication and unbridled curiosity are the name of the game when you’re feeling overwhelmed. You want clarity about what’s most important and why. And curiosity about how to approach your work differently.

You’ll also find the Powerful Phrases in this article on “saying no” helpful when you’re overwhelmed at work.

“What’s most important?”

Focus is the antidote to overwhelm. Be sure you know the MITs (most important things) you need to accomplish at a strategic and tactical level.

“If I had to drop a ball here, which ball should that be?”

Trust us. If you’re going to drop ball your boss cares which one. If you can’t get to everything (or can’t do everything well), this clarifying question can make all the difference.

“What does success look like?”

One way to get curious about alternative, time-saving approaches is to be sure you have a shared understanding of success. With success clearly defined, you can feel more empowered to share ideas for new ways of doing things.

“I could use some help with this.”

Sounds obvious. Yet most of us don’t use this phrase nearly enough.

“I have an idea.”

Constraints are the gateway to creativity. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, look for new ways of working, share your idea, and ask for support to make it happen.

“Here’s what I need.”

When your boss asks what they can do to help, have an answer.

Powerful Phrases for Supporting Your Overwhelmed Team

First, if you’re a manager, here are a few frequently uttered unhelpful phrases.

Please DON’T say these things:

“We just have to do more with less.”

“The boss says . . .”

“We’re just lucky we have jobs.”

Those phrases don’t empower people or lead to productive solutions. And the worst thing you can hear when you’re overwhelmed is the equivalent of “Suck it up, buttercup.” As a manager, you want to do what you can to prevent the snowball of overwhelm from picking up speed as it rolls downhill. Your team needs options before the overwhelm leads to burnout.

If you’re a manager, the previous phrases will work well to get the support you need from your boss. Here are a few bonus phrases you can use with your team.workplace conflict

“This is not okay. That can wait.”

We can’t tell you how many times employees have come to us feeling overwhelmed, and when we encourage them to talk to their boss, the hours the employee works or the level of effort they give to a project shock their boss.

“It’s not okay that you’re working all weekend.”

Or, “It’s not okay that you missed your child’s dance recital.” Sometimes, high-performing employees need their manager to tell them when to stop working. “Oh, you don’t need eighteen pivot tables, just some back-of-napkin math will do.”

“Let’s figure out a different way to do this.”

It’s easy for your team to get stuck in old ways of doing things, particularly if they think that’s what you want. In our research for Courageous Cultures, 67 percent of respondents said their manager operates around the notion of “this is the way we’ve always done it.”

Teach your team to be curious and to look for alternative solutions.

“I really appreciate you and all you are doing.”

When your team is under stress, particularly if some knucklehead told them to “do more with less,” you can’t say “thank you” and “I see you” too much. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, start with better clarity of what matters most and why, and get curious about alternative ways of working.

Your turn. What’s your favorite powerful phrase when you’re overwhelmed at work?

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

  Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict, and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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