my boss is burning out

A reader writes:

Over the last nine months or so, I have been slowly burning out at my job, but that’s not the problem. I am taking steps to combat my own burn-out. The problem is that over this time, I’ve been watching my company add more and more work to my boss. It’s like the higher-ups have asked themselves “What else can we do to burn Boss out?” and then they do what they think of. They have assigned her to time-consuming projects only to pull her off of them mid-way through, essentially wasting her time. We have had three other supervisors quit. Instead of back-filling their positions, the powers that be just assign the abandoned teams to my supervisor, increasing her workload again.

I am part of her original team of seven (she’s now up to 25 direct reports), and each of us want to have her back as much as possible. She is a stellar boss, and goes to bat for us time and time again when we need help getting our work done or meet resistance from other departments. So, my question is what can I and the rest of the team do to support her? I have taken on all the little projects/assignments/tasks she has turfed out to me to lighten her load. Is there anything else? None of us want to lose her, and many of us would probably jump ship with her if it ever came to that.

I answer this question — and four others — on the Ask a Manager podcast today. Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Can I ask my former employee to credit me for the artwork I created for them?
  • My employee went over my head when I told him he was failing his improvement plan
  • I sit next to an incredibly loud chewer
  • Three people left under mysterious circumstances right before I started my new job

The show is 32 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 above.

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

Read an update to the first letter here.

{ 48 comments… read them below }

  1. ThursdaysGeek*

    For #1, would it ever be appropriate to mention to the boss that you think her best solution is to find another job? Or ask her to let you know if she is looking, so that you can also start looking? I know that isn’t the best idea in most circumstances, but there are times that you have a good level of trust with a manager. Could it be ok in that situation?

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I don’t think you can say it that directly unless you have a personal friendship outside of the workplace. In my experience, the only way to get someone to realize they need to find another job is to ask them guiding questions that help them realize or identify that that’s their best option. But doing so takes a lot more time and effort, and YMMV depending on your office culture and relationship with your boss.

    2. Midwest writer*

      I really, really wish I could tell my senior-to-me co-worker to scale back before she burns out. She’s not exactly my boss, but she’s got a higher title and has been here longer definitely has more authority and responsibility. She’s been a great co-worker and she’s very good at what she does, so she’s gotten pulled into some new areas to oversee, but without having any of her regular duties taken away and she is SO BURNED OUT. She’s also within about three years of being able to retire and I think is just going to push through to the end at this point. I think she’s being taken advantage of, but she sees everything as a great opportunity to fix all the problems.

      1. JoJo*

        If I were a cynic, I’d say they’re trying to push her out before she’s eligible for retirement to save money.

        1. OP#1*

          If she were anywhere near retirement, I would suspect this too, but alas, she is not.

          Thursday, I do not have the sort of relationship where I could ask her if she was job hunting. I have flat out told her they were trying to burn her out in a 1v1. She didn’t deny, just sighed and said she could handle it. A couple weeks ago, it got so bad that she left early on a Thursday, and didn’t come back until Monday.

          1. Say what?*

            Oh, I think they’re referring to Midwest Writer’s comment about their coworker who is 3 years from retirement.

        2. fposte*

          Does that really save companies money anymore, at least in the US? Most of them don’t provide pensions, and those that do are required to vest within 5 years. So what’s the advantage to the employer in somebody leaving before they’re eligible to retire?

          1. ThankYouRoman*


            You cut out higher insurance rates and can hire someone at half of what a retiring person was making. It’s awful but older employees cost more across the board.

            1. fposte*

              Sure, but that’s about age of the employee, not the pending retirement. Jojo seemed to be suggesting that retirement itself was costly for employers, And my experience is that it helpfully takes that expensive person off their books, so they’re for it.

        3. Midwest writer*

          Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. Huh.
          In this case, I don’t think that’s what’s going on. We’ve had some restructuring/management changes and she was already picking up some interesting new duties that she just really enjoys. The problem has been our structure really doesn’t have any way to bring in someone to do what she’s doing part-time (ad sales/marketing for our specific publication, which is in a company of similar, but geographically distant publications). All of upper management (her and two others) are new in their respective positions and she has the most on-the-ground experience. So it’s mostly that they rely on her a lot, and she loves to jump in and handle things.
          But yeah, I know that’s a thing and it’s gross and terrible.

        4. MsSolo*

          Ditto. Seen it happen before as well – they wanted to make sweeping changes to a department so they hired a new manager, then laid off most of her reports, then leant on her until she had to quit. The worst thing is from their point of view it was a perfect process, and they’ve repeated it to get reorganise other departments too.

  2. Susan Calvin*

    Oh boy, #2’s employee makes me angry just to think about. I bet he DOES honestly think you have a vendetta with him, what else could possibly be the reason you give him critical feedback every single week? My imagination about his rationalization is going some unkind places, so I’ll stop here, but UGH. Don’t let this guy walk over you, OP!

    1. Teapot librarian*

      #2’s employee could be my Hoarder Employee except that she has been much more on top of managing her employee’s performance than I have been!

    2. OP#2*

      Yeah, part of the reason I was so surprised by the outcome was because I had been so explicit about the problems, and if I were in his shoes, I can’t imagine thinking “nah, this can’t possibly be about the quality of my work, she must have it out for me.”

  3. DogTrainer*

    Which podcast recording software do you use? I’m looking at getting into it for dog behavior, but there are so many options with quite a range of services/prices. I’m totally overwhelmed!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Since I joined HowStuffWorks, I’ve been recording using Spire Studio and then they handle all sound editing.

      But before I joined up with them, I was recording using an app called Anchor, which is really easy and worth checking out (although the sound quality is not as good).

      1. Sabine the Very Mean*

        And FYI, for callers who recorded with Alison using Anchor–It was so so easy and not at all intimidating.

    1. BRR*

      I want to add on to this that I love the Monday release date. So many podcasts release Wednesday (at least for me) that I’m running a little dry at the start of the week.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Good, I’m so glad! In a lot of ways it’s much easier for me so that’s good! It’ll be every Monday.

      However, this Wednesday’s show is a special Halloween show, with lots of different people’s spooky work stories. It’s a really fun episode.

      1. Bulbasaur*

        I like it too, and the question index. It makes it easier for me to jump in if I don’t have time to listen to all of it but I’m interested in one of the questions.

        It would be even more awesome if you could include approximate timestamps for each of the questions in the index, to make it easy for people to find them if they don’t want to listen to the whole thing.

  4. jenniferthebillionth*

    “My employee went over my head when I told him he was failing his improvement plan”

    Oh, I cannot WAIT to read that next week.

  5. Sunglasses*

    I feel so angry on op 2’s behalf. She did everything right! I wish I was getting as consistent feedback from my boss as it sounds like that employee was getting.

  6. Episkey*

    UGH, that direct report going over her head because of a “personal vendetta” Yeeeaaaah. I am also super angry for her and don’t blame her a bit for being annoyed at her direct report. How do you move forward from that and still work with this dude?

  7. ThankYouRoman*

    Dear Lord, I was your boss’s place last year, #1. And having great staff who were the only reason I took a little longer to burn out completely.

    Sadly, she’s being buried and she’ll either leave or start checking out with the landslide that keeps coming her way. Just continue to help and let her know you know she’s beyond busy. Not having to deal with reports being chippy over your limited bandwidth and time is so helpful. I’m sorry you’re watching this train wreck first hand.

  8. The Doctor*


    Boss has already flip-flopped and will keep doing so. Boss has already allowed Bad Employee to undermine Manager and therefore will keep doing so. Boss does not have her back and never will.

    Manager should start job-hunting NOW.

  9. Dana Lynne*

    Just popping in to thank you so much for making transcripts available. They are by far the best way for me to read/access this material and I so appreciate. I love your blog. Thank you.

  10. FG*

    I know this is likely a dumb question, but for those of us that don’t like listening to podcasts or might be hearing impaired or just would prefer a transcript, is there one available somewhere?

    1. Fish Microwaver*

      The transcripts are available the following week. There is a link at the bottom of the intro which will take you to last week’s and previous ones.

  11. Doctor Schmoctor*

    A previous manager of mine burned out. But it was 100% his own doing. He was the lead on 3 big projects, and didn’t trust anyone to make any important decisions. He had to be in control of every single little thing. He resigned halfway through the projects, and the other guys had to take over his responsibilities. It was a mess. At the time I was pissed off for not being involved in those projects, but now I’m not so sure.

  12. Big ol pot of tea*

    Re the incredibly loud chewer. Oh boy. This sounds really difficult – especially with the intensification there seems to have been lately. The belching!! I actually reckon, with that specifically, you’d be totally fine to speak up. ‘Dude! Don’t be gross.’ Laugh about it if that feels more comfortable. But with a stern frown. (Imo.)
    I also just want to say. Every afternoon I hear my boss farting in his office opposite mine. Weirdly, I don’t mind. I think I would mind heaps if I didn’t like him. It is funny how gross human noises are so much worse when you don’t like the person making them.

    1. UnderwaterOphelia*

      Hahaha, your boss is totally your BEC. I’m the same way though. If I dislike my boss, every little thing they do annoys me.

  13. UnderwaterOphelia*

    I’m currently on week 11 out of a 12 week PIP and I’ve got to say, a 30 day PIP would have never worked for me. The first few weeks I felt like my hair was on fire and I was going around in circles trying to learn how to multitask all of the things my manager expected me to do. The original reason I got put on the PIP was because my personal life bled into my work life, causing my attendance to be an issue and therefore my productivity to go down. Luckily, I was told by HR that my personal life issues were actually covered by FMLA, and that is the only way I was able to temper my bosses’ expectations of what a reasonable workload actually looks like for me currently.

  14. Michaela Westen*

    Alison, could you post transcripts of the podcasts? I don’t really have time to listen, but I can fit in reading. This is one of several times I’d like to know your answer to fascinating questions on the podcast! :)

  15. Typhon Worker Bee*

    Off topic, but both of the other podcasts that were mentioned in the ads on this episode sound amazing! I tried to subscribe (even though I am beyond hopelessly behind on my podcast listening), but it seems that “Creature Feature” isn’t available in Pocket Casts yet

  16. Tadiana*

    I’m an avid AAM reader who’s delurking for this: I’m an IP (intellectual property) attorney with a fair amount of experience with “work for hire” situations. This may well not be a work for hire situation, even though the OP was an employee, if the work was outside of the normal scope of her duties and she was paid separately for it. That might (note the “might”) make her an independent contractor for this project, and if she was creating the artwork in a role as an independent contractor, she owns the copyright and the IP rights to the art, unless the parties otherwise agree IN WRITING. This “in writing” requirement trips up a lot of companies that hire independent contractors who produce work for them that the company assumes it owns.

    The company just gets a license to use it for whatever purpose the parties originally agreed, which may or may not include rights to use it in future years. The licensing scope and intent get pretty murky and difficult to prove in actual cases, since a lot of times the scope was never specifically discussed, and it’s probably not something she’d want to pursue legally. But if it makes her feel better, I’d guess she at least owns the artwork and has the right to reuse it herself for her own purposes.

    Standard disclaimers apply to online legal advice: I don’t know all the facts, it would be advisable to consult a lawyer, etc.

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