How to Talk to Your Boss About Burnout
Although talking to your supervisor about burnout can be difficult even in the best-case scenarios, coming to the table with a good sense of how you’re feeling, what you need, and a concrete plan of action can help ease the nerves.
Burnout can be a difficult topic for employees to bring up in the workplace for several reasons. First, there’s still a stigma around asking for help at work, whether that’s needing additional support on a project taking a mental health day. In addition, everyone processes experiences differently, so what might feel like a good challenge for you may feel overwhelming to someone else.
“Asking for help can be hard, but it’s necessary,” said Jaya Koilpillai Bohlmann, founder and chief consultant at Designing Communication. “Each of us has the responsibility to manage our own experiences at work.”
To start, Bohlmann recommends setting aside time once a week to track how you’re feeling at work. Are you feeling productive and challenged or fatigued and exhausted? Constant exhaustion that a good night’s sleep won’t fix is often a common sign of workplace burnout.
“Feelings of burnout can also look similar to what we would consider depression,” Bohlmann said. “Feeling purposeless or like your work doesn’t matter. Managing these feelings is possible; we just need to recognize them and find a path forward.”
If your self-assessment confirms you’re feeling burned out, identify a few things that you think could help alleviate it and then come up with some reasonable solutions. For instance, do you need more flexibility, less travel, or more transparency? Although being honest with your supervisor about these feelings can be overwhelming, good meeting prep and having some solutions in mind can help ease the discomfort.
When employees feel ready to discuss their burnout concerns, Bohlmann suggests taking the following steps:
Request a specific meeting time with your supervisor. This conversation should not be an informal chat. Ensure the meeting takes place in a private setting and that you’ll have your supervisor’s undivided attention. This will help you feel safe and heard.
Be mindful of framing. Bohlmann suggests that employees frame the conversation around how these feelings of burnout are affecting you professionally. Phrases like “I fear my productivity may be lagging,” “I’m not as engaged as I would like to be,” or “I worry this could affect my work performance” keep the focus on the workplace. It’s good to be specific about what you’re experiencing to help show your boss what’s changed and why.
Share your solutions. After identifying the problem and how it’s affecting work performance, you can share the solutions you came up with ahead of the meeting. These should be realistic, specific ideas that your supervisor can get on board with, such as asking for an extension on a project, taking time off, or attending an upcoming conference virtually rather than in person.
Providing several options gives supervisors more opportunities to work with employees to determine what makes the most sense for their specific situation.
“You want to leave the meeting with clear takeaways,” Bohlmann said. “I recommend scheduling time in the next few days or week for a follow-up meeting on how things are going because you want to leave the conversation with a resolution and a path forward.”