Career Advice / Speaking Out

How To Tell Your Boss You're Burnt Out

. 6 min read . Written by Sanjana Bhagwat
How To Tell Your Boss You're Burnt Out

You’ve spent months being super focused on your work –burning the night oil and crushing it on all your tasks. Next thing you know, you’re the one that’s burnt out and crushed.

Is Burnout Normal Or Normalised?

Have you had spells at work where you felt completely exhausted, stressed, lost, unmotivated and unable to cope with your work? Maybe you were able to overcome it with a weekend of self-care or a leave from work. But often, these short spells can turn into prolonged periods of exhaustion, mental distress and even complications with your physical health, if left unchecked.

Burnout has become exceedingly common in the rat race we call the “corporate world”. However, even though it’s common and normalised, burnout is not normal. People are slowly but surely learning this – to stop glorifying the hustle culture that not only causes but also encourages burnout. We talk about it openly on social media, confess to our friends about it, and support colleagues we think are going through it.

What we haven’t learned to normalise yet, is talking to our bosses about being burnt out.

How To Tell Your Boss You’re Burnt Out

1.  Don’t convince yourself that you need to find a solution to the situation on your own

It’s hard to believe that talking to your boss about you burning out – as kind and understanding as they may be – will lead to positive outcomes. You may feel like the division of labour by your boss within the team is more than fair – just that you have a lower threshold than others of what you can take on. You don’t want to come off as whiny, and you don’t want them to feel like they can’t rely on you.

“I’m just not working efficiently enough. This is on me,” you may tell yourself.

woman stressed

As much as you may attempt to find a solution to your burnout without bothering your boss, all your to-do lists, #selfcare breaks and “making myself a priority” affirmations, will lead to very little change if your work continues to feel overwhelming, and people keep piling on more tasks when all you need is for them to throw you a lifeline.

The healthiest way you can approach the issue, for both yourself and the organisation, is to be honest with your boss about how you’re feeling, and attempt to find a solution in a collaborative manner.

2.  Discuss how you’re feeling with a close colleague or friend first

Discussing your situation with someone else will not only help you get things that are bothering you off your chest but also help you gain more clarity on what you’re experiencing.

If you’re talking to a colleague at work, make sure you trust them and remind them not to bring your situation up with anyone – especially your boss – before you can.

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Talking about how you’re feeling with a close colleague or friend can help you get all of the venting out of the way, and streamline your thoughts. Listening to what others think can also help you gain objective insight into your situation.

This can also be a great rehearsal for your conversation with your boss in the future.

3.  Set up a formal or informal meeting with your boss

If you’re comfortable with your boss, you can set up a meeting with them personally. If you’re afraid of your boss, you can set up the meeting through HR.

Before setting up the meeting, know what your boss’ preferred communication style is. Have they encouraged informal meetings and check-ins before? In this case, you could set up a video call, pop into their cabin, or even request them to step out with you for a few minutes, and let the conversation flow organically. Do they prefer quick, succinct conversations? In such a case, it would be better to prepare a list of quick talking points, and maybe even a few solutions to propose.

Also remember that putting anything in writing, in emails or Slack messages, about you being burnt out and requesting change, will make the situation more formal. The advantage is that your boss will be required to address your concerns in a professional and timely manner. If you prefer a more casual conversation about our concerns, however, bring it up during a one-on-one check-in with your boss.

4.  Make sure you don’t seem like you’re complaining

You may be saying “I’m burnt out”, but your boss may hear it as “You’re burning me out”.

Make sure your appeal isn’t coming off as a complaint, or worse – blame. This is one of the most important reasons why you should address your concerns of burning out with your boss as early as possible, and not wait till you’re completely fed up and at your wits end. Your heightened negative feelings are bound to negatively impact your conversation with your boss, and force them to become defensive.

Avoid phrases like “I’m sick of this work” or make it seem like they owe you a solution.

Make it clear that you wouldn’t bring your situation up if it wasn’t important. Explain how your burnout will prevent you from adding value you are capable of adding to the organization. Make it clear that you are coming to them for guidance and help, and not to blame them.

5.  Have a few possible solutions in mind, but be open to problem-solving together  

Assess your situation and consider what would help you overcome your burnout before your meeting with your boss. Know which solutions would work, and know which would end up just being a temporary solution to this long-term issue.

However, even when you have solutions in mind, don’t propose them without hearing what your boss has to say first. Explain what you’re experiencing, and ask them what they think. Initiate a collaborative effort at coming up with solutions that will benefit both you and the organisation.

6.  If you’re afraid of a demotion or job loss, bring it up

One of the main reasons people refrain from talking about burnout with their boss is fear of making them angry, being demoted or – in the worst, most unempathetic scenario – losing their job.

It is definitely hard to be open about things that may come off as “weaknesses” to your boss. If you’re afraid that you being honest with your boss about this could have negative consequences, bring that up during the conversation. Talk to your boss about how you’ve been afraid to bring your burnout up for fear of them perceiving you negatively or losing your job.

This way, you will know what your boss’ opinions are, and they are likely to quash your concerns once and for all. They are also likely to be more empathetic for the rest of the conversation.

7.  Follow up

If your talk with your boss ends with concrete solutions on how to deal with your burnout, and they don’t follow through on implementing the solutions within the next few days, follow up with them.

If healthy solutions are implemented, you should still follow up with your boss! Thank them for their efforts and update them on how successful the solutions have been.

If you’re still struggling, you could suggest some tweaks to the original plan. If you’ve been feeling more motivated, and productive thanks to your boss’ support, make sure you let them know!

So, take charge of your recovery by talking to the person in charge at work! Let us know if this guide helps you during your conversation with your boss in the comments! 

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