So you didn’t find that last post too interesting, apparently, and left me lonely and bereft of comments. Let’s see if you like this one any better. A reader writes:
I work for a non-profit that is a bit understaffed, but the biggest problem is that the staff, as a whole, is under qualified. The director of the organization hasn’t been there long (18 months) and inherited this staff. They’ve been (in my opinion) extremely poorly managed, and many of them are under qualified for their jobs (again, in my non-HR but definitely managerial opinion).
I was one of my boss’ first hires. I had some inkling of the staffing issues at this place, but came anyway. It’s not uncommon to have crazy staff situations at small-to-mid-level non-profits, and I did have the impression that things were more solid than they ultimately were.
Now, after 9 months in my position, I am burning out. I am picking up lots of extra slack, and trying to manage people in roles they don’t belong in. I am being depended on for things that are well outside my scope of expertise and responsibility. My boss has come to heavily rely on me as a “second set of eyes” on projects that aren’t mine, simply because he trusts my judgment (No, he is not the best manager. Definitely a visionary, not a manager).
I am gaining weight. Working long hours. Resentful. My life is out of balance because of my trying to keep up with everything my boss asks. I am not happy and am already considering looking for another job, even though I really like my boss and want to see the organization ultimately succeed. How do I re-align things? I understand that the fact that things have gotten this far is my fault too. How do I un-do the damage?
P.S. After re-reading this, I realize I might come across as ungrateful, especially in the eyes of so many who would love a job, any job right now. I hope it doesn’t come across that way. I know how lucky I am to have a job. Truly, I am hoping to fix this situation so that I can be a happy and productive employee for a long time with this organization!
Have you talked to your manager about how you’re feeling? That’s the first step — you need to explain that your workload has become unmanageable, that your responsibilities have grown without anything being removed to make room, and that you want to talk with him about how to restructure what you’re doing so that the workload is more realistic and so that you don’t burn out.
So. Communicate. That’s the first step. No one can help you if they don’t even know there’s a problem.
Suggest some options. Say, “I can do A and B, but not C. Or if C is really important, I’d want to move A off my plate to make room for it. Alternately, I can act as an advisor to Jane on C, but I can’t do the work of C myself if I’m also doing A and B.”
If your manager resists making these kinds of choices and trade-offs, you need to keep pushing the issue. Say, “I hear you that we want it all to get done, but since I’m never going to be able to get to it all, I want to make strategic choices about how I should be structuring my time, and make sure that you and I are aligned on those choices.” If he still is no help (which might be the case; some people are bad at this kind of thing), then come up with your own proposal for what you intend to do and not do, and give him that.
From there, enforce some boundaries. When someone asks you to take on something new, don’t just add it to your plate without moving anything else. To take on something new, you need to either get rid of something else or at least push it back. Your time and energy are not infinite, and that reality needs to be built into the decisions you (and your manager) make.
Furthermore, you are doing your organization no favors by working yourself into the ground. At some point, the quality of your work will suffer, and you’ll also probably end up moving on sooner than you would have otherwise. A good organization wants awesome employees who produce at a high level, but because it wants them to be doing great work in a year too, it wants them to function in a sustainable way. What you’re doing won’t be sustainable.
Now, two caveats:
1. Someone is sure to claim that being candid like this will have dire consequences for you, that your manager will expect you to just suck it up and deal with it, etc., so I want to say preemptively that I don’t think that’s going to be the case. First of all, it sounds like you’re highly valued and that you and your manager have a great relationship. Second, it sounds like he’s perfectly happy to tolerate subpar performance from others, so he’s not likely to lay into you for saying you can only do 110% of the job rather than 150%. But hey, if he reacts badly, there’s your sign that you can happily drop your loyalty and start looking elsewhere.
2. I’m taking you at your word that the workload really is way too high. If, instead, the workload was ambitious but still achievable in a reasonable workweek by someone good, in that case, a good manager would push back. (Although even if that were the case, the answer wouldn’t be for you to make yourself sick trying to get it all done; rather, that would be a signal to conclude that you and the job weren’t well-matched.)
Finally, as a last point, I’m going to question whether you should really be so committed to staying. You say you’re working somewhere that’s poorly managed, with lots of under-qualified staff. These are not good things, and they’re especially troubling in the context of a nonprofit.
I’m about to get sanctimonious for a moment: The work many nonprofits do is crucial, and what’s at stake is so much more important than some business’s bottom line. Because of that, nonprofits have a special obligation to be as effective as possible in pursuing their missions, which means that they need to be really committed to effective management … which includes getting rid of people who aren’t fantastic. So I hope you’ll ask yourself some hard questions about whether this organization is living up to its obligations to its donors and the communities it serves.