I’m drowning in too much work

The questions on today’s podcast are:

  • I’m drowning in too much work
  • People keep getting promoted past me
  • My coworkers are obsessed with my weight loss
  • I’m having panic attacks from my high-stress office
  • My difficult coworker hums incessantly
  • Why are our temps getting paid more than me?

The show is 28 minutes long, and you can listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts (or here’s the direct RSS feed). Or you can listen right here:

Or, if you prefer, here’s the transcript.

{ 43 comments… read them below }

  1. dml*

    I love the new format of the podcasts – more questions and answers. It’s so helpful, and entertaining. Thank you for the extra helping of AskAManager.

    1. BRR*

      I love this additional format as well. I’m not sure what exactly it is (becuae I love the back and forth of the Wednesday podcasts), but I love the quick fire format as well.

  2. Anon For Always*

    I definitely like having multiple questions.

    And I found the first question and answer to be very helpful. Because so often the advice is to talk to you boss about what can be moved to another department/person/position, but that becomes an issue when there just aren’t enough staff. And I know as a manager, I often don’t recognize how long it takes to do something. To me something will be simple and not take very long, but it’s often because I don’t understand all the various steps the person is taking. Some of which may be necessary, but some of which may be able to be skipped.

    1. JaneB*

      My boss just says I’m not working efficiently enough, should ignore clients (without affecting their feedback, naturally) and”other people aren’t complaining”. Wish it wasn’t so hard to find a new job in academia! But it’s good to have the normality check of things like this podcast to help me believe it isn’t normal & the problem really isn’t that I’m a bad employee!

    2. MsChanandlerBong*

      Thank you! I just had this conversation with my boss the other day. He couldn’t believe that it took so long to do something (answer a question from a freelancer). He was only considering the time it took to type out the answer to the question, but it can take much longer to find the answer. Some of our clients have style guides that are several pages long, so if a writer asks a question about style rules, you could have to comb through a bunch of stuff just to find the answer. Then you have to explain it to the writer in a way s/he understands. It could take five or ten minutes to locate the information you need and then type out a response. Same thing with reviewing writer submissions. He was only thinking of the time it took to read the submission, but we have to read the instructions for every assignment to make sure the writer followed the word count, the client’s preferred style (e.g. first-person vs. third-person POV, serial comma or no serial comma, etc.), and our internal style rules. Some clients give us instructions that span five or ten pages in MS Word. It can take 10 minutes just to review the instructions before you even start reading the writer’s work.

  3. female peter gibbons*

    Thank you so much for linking to the transcripts to previous episodes; I love this feature!

  4. ThursdaysGeek*

    For #1, who is drowning in too much work – this doesn’t help with the too much work, but it does help with communication with your boss – I send a status email at the end of each week. It’s not long, but I note anything special about the current or next week (like being out for an appointment, being on call). And then I list the things I worked on this week, status, and any issues. And then what I plan on working on next week. That way, my boss knows what I’ve done and what I plan on doing, and can suggest modifications if appropriate.

    Hi Boss – Here is my current status. I’ll be out on Thursday for the llama wrangling class.

    What I’ve done this week:
    – Llama naming project – I worked on this. I am making progress.
    – Llama brushing – I started on this, and need a different kind of brush. I’ve asked Jane for help.
    – Alpaca combing – finally got this done!

    What I’m going to work on next week:
    – Llama naming project – I expect to get this done before Thursday.
    – Our annual llama pajama party will be in January, so I’ll start working on the venue.

    1. Shark Whisperer*

      I really like this approach. My whole team does this in one big google doc (we aren’t a very large team but we are spread out across the country). It’s handy not only to show your manager what’s on your plate, but it is also helpful for me to be able to see what is on my coworker’s plate. We are all very busy on my team, but I can get kind of a general idea of who is swamped and who might be able to help me with something by looking at our weeklies.

      1. Birch*

        We do this too! We have a spreadsheet that’s updated each week with large projects, names of people who are working on them, and sub-tasks with space to write an update. Deadlines and important events have their own section. I love it. Such an easy way to keep track of what everyone’s working on.

    2. Anon helper*

      My team does this too.
      1. What I did this week
      2. What I’ll do next week
      3. Issues/goals for this month
      4. Anything else to know (days off, visitors to the office, business trips, etc)

      It’s super helpful come eval time because I can look back at a week-by-week list of what I’ve accomplished, and allows my boss to stay on top of my workload without having to get too involved. I get to step back weekly and get a sense of progress. It was even helpful in problem solving with another team about why a project was behind schedule–I could go back and identify where problems arose.

    3. Overworked and Overloaded*

      But what do you do if you don’t even have time to write these statuses because you’re drowning in so much work? I’ve been OP #1 in the past and it’s one of the reasons I don’t want to work in my old industry FT. It’s apparently “normal” to work 30 hours straight in this industry (not a typo). That didn’t happen to me but more than one person has told me a story like this.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        I refuse to drown, because I don’t do more than I can do. I do what I can, and try to do it well, and if there is more to do, it is not done. It is not my job to drown – it is my boss’s job to make sure there are adequate resources. If I don’t have time to let my boss know my status, then I need to do a bit less so there is time.

        And yeah, I’ve heard of medical students, sailors, and others who work 30 hours straight. I think that’s a horrible idea (especially in medicine, where if I were a patient, I want someone who is still able to think straight). I doubt that one person can really influence that culture – I don’t know a solution in that case.

        1. Overworked and Overloaded*

          Thankfully where I am now, the culture is a lot more work/life balance. The philosophy here is “how can you do your best work when you are exhausted and haven’t had any sleep?”

          Unfortunately the culture won’t ever change because the industry is filled with people who are “used to it” or call it “paying dues” if a bright eyed bushy tailed employee comes in and has to work these hours so senior management isn’t looking to make these changes. The other problem is, they won’t hire more Llama Washing Employees for the llama washing station even if Llama Company got a new project and increased the number of llamas that need to be washed ASAP. They put this work on the current llama washing employees instead with no additional pay.

  5. Reluctanct Freelancer*

    Thank you SO MUCH for clarifying pay discrepancies in question #6. I hate telling people how much money I make an hour, not because I’m ashamed or I think it’s a trade secret, but because regular FTEs are usually just completely unaware of the true cost of being a temp/contractor/freelancer. They really don’t understand that 30% of what we make is going to taxes (and that’s if we even make enough to be above the poverty line). We get no benefits that we don’t pay for ourselves (or maybe you are lucky enough to have a spouse with benefits or are still young enough to be on your parents insurance?). We don’t get paid vacations. Scheduling a vacation can even be a nightmare because we are risking missing out on work. I once briefly lost a client because I was out of town and they used someone else. I eventually worked with them again, but not for several months. And when you are out of work, it is incredibly difficult to claim unemployment benefits (if you even qualify/hint, you usually don’t). So yeah. That question really stung when I heard her asking it because I’ve heard that tone many many times directed at me. Many of us would really love to be in her shoes getting that lower FTE pay with job security and benefits. Thanks again Alison!

    1. ChachkisGalore*

      Yeah, a lot of people don’t think of all the stuff that’s “included” in their salary.

      During my last job search I was open to taking a long-term contract role (it’s not uncommon in my industry), but I had to do a ton of calculations to figure out what my minimum rate would be to make it work financially. I took the yearly salary that I knew was market rate, then added on a year’s worth of out of pocket health insurance, then calculated in how much extra I’d need to add on to cover the sick/vacation days that I wouldn’t get paid for but estimated that I’d need, then added on an additional 5-10% in taxes (I was in the 25%ish tax bracket, but knew from past experience as an independent contractor that I’d need 30% of my salary set aside for taxes as a minimum). Then I calculated out what the hourly rate would be based on all of that. It seemed astronomically high for my level of experience, but when I spoke to recruiters they all indicated that it was a reasonable rate.

      I can almost guarantee that after adjusting for all of that the net pay of the temps is less than the caller’s (at least if the caller gets any type of decent benefits – if not then I get how this would sting)

      1. Dragoning*

        Yeah, basically: those temps would trade places with you in a heartbeat, caller, if that’s what you want so much.

        If you know how much they make from experience but aren’t working there now, maybe there’s a reason, eh?

      2. Reluctanct Freelancer*

        RIGHT!? When OP #6 said they were only getting $4 more an hour than her my first thought was that their temps are actually getting scr*w*d. That can’t POSSIBLY be enough to make up for taxes/no benefits!

      3. Minocho*

        I was a W2 contractor, so my taxes weren’t different, and my employer half of Social Security was covered, but I still had no benefits or paid days off. Holiday? That was a week I got short pay.

        I know it’s waaaaay more work for 1099 contractors. I can only imagine!

    2. Wendy Darling*

      Even when I was a temp through an agency and was on a W2, so I didn’t have to worry about taxes so much, I had a higher salary than you might otherwise think because I didn’t get benefits. I got no PTO so I had to make sure I was making enough money that I’d still be able to pay my rent if I got the flu and had to miss a week of work. The health plan the agency offered was a complete joke (they had the least coverage legally admissible) so I had to set aside money for high premiums and my sky-high deductible and all the medical expenses the crappy health plan didn’t cover. I had to go to the ER once in that period and I missed 2 days of work and had a giant medical bill and hadn’t met my deductible yet and was absolutely frantic because I owed thousands of dollars and didn’t get paid. I went back to work way sooner than I would have if I’d had PTO because I couldn’t afford more unpaid time off + the ER bill.

      Also my actual take-home pay was 50-60% what the company paid the temp agency for the privilege of having me work there, so I’m sure my hourly rate looked absolutely exorbitant.

      1. Reluctanct Freelancer*

        I assumed she was talking about the temp’s actual take home rate and not the agencies rate for placing them. I would hope that her employer would have explained the fee that agencies charge for temps on-top of regular hourly rates. At only $4 more an hour than her pay grade, I can’t imagine she is talking about what the temp agency is making. Even at the national minimum wage of $7.25 that wouldn’t make sense.

      2. wafflesfriendswork*

        I thought I was lucky to get health insurance through my temp agency after a wait period, until I was laid off from one placement and the wait period started over when I got the next placement. Had an accident during that period that required an ambulance ride, stitches, and dental work.

        I tried to work two days after (I had stitches on my upper lip and my front teeth were chipped and loosened) and they sent me home for the rest of the week after an hour because I was barely understandable on the phone and was in a front desk reception role–but of course, I didn’t get that time paid, because I was an hourly temp.

        1. wafflesfriendswork*

          Also, off topic grumbling about temp work, I found out about being laid off from the first placement on a Monday morning when I was about to go to work, when my agency person emailed me to give her a call before I left for work. That was fun.

          1. Bea*

            Oh man. This reminds me how lucky was fifteen years ago when I got cut from a temp job because they found someone willing to be a part time clerk for minimum wage and I was too expensive through the agency. Only to get a call as I was getting in my car to go home, boiling mad they wasted my time, from the agency telling me they had a temp to hire place call back to hire me. I stayed there a decade and haven’t had to temp again. My heart hurts thinking about the scraps they throw at you from those agencies most of the time.

      3. The Original K.*

        I had a yearlong W-2 contractor position so I was there during the holidays and the company was closed the week between Christmas and New Year’s. That’s great when you’re salaried; not so much when you’re hourly.

      4. Reluctanct Freelancer*

        I am so sorry you are dealing with shitty insurance and medical bills.

        The other day I was having a conversation with a bunch of people about how a bunch of careers that used to be regular FTE jobs ceased being so after the recession. So many people have been playing the gig game since 2008/09. None of us count when the government talks about unemployment rates because we can’t claim unemployment benefits. All of us want to be fully employed, many of us are very qualified, we can get contracts and temp gigs for days. We have pages and pages of people who are happy to recommend us and hire us for projects. But no one will hire us as regular employees. We have made major life decisions like getting married for benefits, sure they may love the person, but it’s ultimately about being smart. People are deciding not to have children because they just can’t afford a family, they can’t afford a place big enough to raise a family, they waited too long and they can’t afford treatments “to get pregnant”. They are straddled with medical bills, they are doing entry level jobs when they have 15-20 years of experience. Freelancing is not a glamorous life. It is incredibly stressful. I’ve been trying to get out of it for a long time. What really sucks is it feels like many of us were forced into it by a bad economy and now we are trapped here because we’ve been doing it too long. It always pains me how often I tell my fellow freelancers about landing a new gig and without fail I get hit up for a job.

        1. Xarcady*

          More or less in the same place, myself.

          The holidays are coming up. At this company, based on the holidays last year, as a temp I will lose 6.5 – 7 days of pay between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, due to the company being very generous with paid time off for permanent employees over the holidays. The temps, and this company hires quite a lot seasonally, will get those days off with no pay.

  6. Dragoning*

    As one of those perma-lancer people who is stuck in a temp position for a year and a half now, the last one drives me a crazy.

    I would gladly take a paycut for paid vacation time and insurance.

    grumble grumble

    Also this person is wayyyy too invested in what the temps are getting paid and feeling “superior” to the temps.

    1. Zona the Great*

      Eh, I can see how one could get to this point without knowing the ins and outs of temp work.

      1. D'Arcy*

        Even not knowing the ins and outs of temping, it’s *way* out of line to literally go to management threatening to quit unless other people’s pay gets cut to below yours because you think you’re entitled to more. I’d probably fire someone for that — both for being an entitled jerk, and for thinking they’re allowed to dictate to management in that fashion.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          I think it depends on the employee – if it’s someone relatively new to the workforce that is not factoring in taxes/benefits/etc., I might take a few minutes to break it down for them the way Alison did. I also work with contractors, and we definitely pay them more than their employee peers to make up for the lack of benefits/payroll tax payment. It seems only fair – we need their specialized expertise, just not permanently.

          I did find the superior attitude towards temps annoying. We’ve had the opportunity to work with some really good temps over the years (one of my best current employees started as a temp, and about two weeks in, the team she was working with was like, “YOU HAVE TO HIRE HER NOW!!”). They’re coming in to keep you from working a 12-hour day, show some love.

        2. MM*

          I also thought it was wild that the caller asked about legal options. On what possible basis? I was a contractor for a year and had a much better situation than most of the people talking about their temp/freelance/contracting experience above, but that question still pissed me off because of the general sense of wounded superiority, like Dragoning said.

  7. Cosette*

    #1 – I had a similar problem and it took me too long to wave the white flag and just admit that I can’t do it all. Fortunately, from that experience and from my boss’s response, I have learned to let people know before I am drowning. In my case, they got me help anytime I said I needed it, because they knew I would only ask if I really truly needed it. Good luck!

    1. Ron McDon*

      You’re so lucky. We are so understaffed in my job, I have waved the white flag repeatedly over the last 5 weeks to no avail. Every time I ask my boss about our new hire we were promised it’s like she’s forgotten all about it, each time. No advert has been posted yet, so I don’t know when – or if – we’re ever going to get anyone. It gets me down.

  8. Phoenix Programmer*

    I liked being able to get a tonal example on these multiple questions. I do hope the Wednesday ones stay more involved though!

  9. IndoorCat*

    I’m more sympathetic to LW #6 than others, I think.

    Mainly, I wonder if she’s in a boat similar to mine, where she’s an FTE and get’s the tax benefit and stability of this kind of employment, but not other benefits. Personally, at my current job, I’m a full-time employee, but I work for a small business (less than 50 employees; 33 people total), so they aren’t required to pay for health insurance under ACA. So I pay for my own healthcare plan, which currently is half a week’s paycheck every month, plus $90 every month at CVS to pay my share of the meds I need to, y’know, not die.

    I also pay into my own retirement account through a robo-investor, without any kind of retirement benefits from my workplace. So, that presumed FTE benefit isn’t there either.

    So, where I’m coming from is, I usually feel pretty good about where I’m at. I genuinely enjoy my job. The pay is alright, mainly because my lifestyle is low-budget. I work from home and don’t have a car; using Uber or the bus when I do need to get places is easy and much cheaper, month-to-month, than car payments / insurance / gas / repairs. My monthly food budget is fine– enough to make plenty of nutritious meals and occasionally splurge on treats and fast food, but not enough to go to restaurants. I could never afford HBO, or even my own Netflix account, but I can afford to split it. I share a home with three other adults in their 20s, in a safe-but-not-pretty neighborhood. I don’t have college debt. I don’t feel impoverished or anxious about money.

    For individual income, I’m at the 4oth percentile, which I think means I’m lower middle class. I feel pretty comfortable; pretty safe. The pantry will always be full, the lights will never get shut off, I can safely go to the ER and not worry about if I can handle the cost of it. What I’m trying to get at with this list is, I’m better off than a lot of people I care about. I’m better off than where I used to be, for sure.

    So, I’m sympathetic to LW 6 I think because, in my life, I’ve found it so crazy hard to ask: am I being paid fairly? Is my work worth $x? And, in theory, that answer doesn’t change depending on what other people make– the temps or my co-worker with a different job or whomever else. But in reality, I often feel peaceful or anxious about my finances depending on who I’m comparing myself to. I think it is very difficult to look at things objectively– how much is my work worth? How can I make the case that it is worth more? It’s easier to see, “Well, how do I compare to Fergus and Wakeen?”

    I rarely feel the kind of emotions that drive people to ask for a raise, because most people in my life are worse off than me. So it makes sense emotionally, albeit obviously not logically, to feel gratitude that I’ve gotten to this point, away from poverty, and peace because I’m better off than others near me. It would probably be wise to ask for a raise in January, but I feel awkward about it. I feel like I *shouldn’t,* if only because it seems like it’d mess up the peaceful / grateful feeling I have now. But, that’s probably foolish.

    And, likewise, I guess I feel for LW 6. I can see why envy would be the driver that actually makes her push her bosses for a raise (or to apply for a higher paying job elsewhere). That seeing others make $4/hour more than her sparks this anger that she wants to address with her managers– although, obviously, she’s going about it all wrong. Venting about temps and contractors, and putting them down, obviously that isn’t going to help her and it devalues contractors, which is unfair and just overall crappy.

    But I still sympathize, because envy, I think, comes from a low sense of self-worth. And so much of what we’re “supposed” to derive our self-worth from is being better than other people, and being “better off” than those around us. I have friends with similar finances to mine, but came from different kinds of families, and they’re angry and tend to say things like, “I’m a person who deserves to own a car; I deserve to have a 2-bedroom apartment with no roommates; I deserve a Disneyland vacation!” And they phrase it that way because those material things represent an idea about who they are, not because owning a car in and of itself is something they long for. A car is convenient, but no-car is not an infuriating inconvenience. It is the embarrassment of being unable to afford a car that is infuriating.

    That self-concept isn’t something isolated; it stems from where they fit in compared to other people. So, their concept of their finances isn’t an objective measure of the value of their work, even though arguing for the value of one’s work is the only way to get more money to reach the lifestyle they want.

    1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

      That is a deep and insightful interpretation and I think you have it spot on.
      We have temps at our company, but as far as I am aware, the only difference is they are paid a strict hourly rate (i.e. for every hour they work), rather than my salary. They get all other benefits – they are entitled to accrue vacation time and they have access to the free tea and coffee. But if I found out they were being paid more than me I’d be fuming – not least because I’d have flashbacks to when I started out and had 5 years work experience under my belt, my then-company took on some graduates who were paid double my salary, just because they were graduates. Graduates who *I* had to train because they didn’t know how to print or save a document – despite their degree being in *computers*!
      But I guess companies will pay what they think you’re worth / what they can get away with, and the onus is in you to professionally prove otherwise.

    2. Dragoning*

      She mentions being part of a huge conglomerate. Your interpretation, while charitable and kind, is inaccurate, unfortunately.

    3. all the candycorn*

      I get your point about envy, but you say you’re in your 20s. What plans do you have for the future, and how does your earnings and living situation work towards that? It’s not morally wrong for people to want to build a stable little nest for themselves as they get older and deprivation starts to turn into risk.

      1. IndoorCat*

        Oh! I am not trying to say it’s morally wrong at all. I even think it’s wise to ask for raises / look to get paid more elsewhere. Part of why I started reading Ask A Manager in the first place is because I sort of know, on some level, that logic and wisdom conflicts with my emotions here. So I began reading AAM because I want to get into an emotional frame of mind that it isn’t shameful to try to get more, it’s just a normal facet of business; I love how much she emphasizes being matter-of-fact and gives concrete steps to make the case that your work ought to earn you more.

        I guess my main point is, it is very difficult to only be motivated by the logical / rational thing. I think being aware of how my own actions are so emotionally driven, I’m less judgemental when others are driven by the “wrong” emotions. But I definitely believe that people can and do pursue higher pay for reasons other than envy!

  10. Reba*

    For weight loss caller #3 — when you got to the introduction-by-pounds I actually yelped “WHAT?” aloud (fortunately I am at home alone).

    I think Alison’s scripts are great, and I wanted to add that if you wanted to expend the effort to try and shift the tone around this in your office, I feel pretty confident that there are other people around who would appreciate and benefit from curtailing this kind of talk–even if they never speak up about it.

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