my company wants me working fewer hours — but I have so much to do

A reader writes:

Since the pandemic, my company has been doing about double the work we were before the outbreak. I’m new (as of February) and my team is currently only half-staffed (two people instead of four). We are currently remote, and will be for at least another month.

The other person on my team and I have been working extra long hours in order to keep up with the demand of our daily tasks and the constant emails from our business partners needing assistance from us. However, the company has been sending down communication that they want people to cut back on hours as much as possible, and we are trying … but it’s impossible to keep up with the demand in just a 40-hour work week, even with others helping out here and there.

My only teammate will be on vacation next week, and we just received direction that we are only allowed to work eight hours a day starting next week. Even with others pitching in, this will be rough for me, and not being allowed to work late will be infinitely more stressful than if I were able to work at my own discretion. I’m pretty good about wrapping up by 6 pm most days (which is still a 10-hour day, but it’s not like I have any other demands on my time at the moment). I also get paid for overtime, which makes the long days more palatable for me, but I’m sure is a concern for the company.

I know my manager is doing everything she can to help me out and lighten my workload, but it is just not realistic to think I can get a majority of my work completed with a tight time constraint right now. I’m not typically stressed out by long hours, and I’ve been careful to do what I can to avoid burnout. But the idea of having to constantly re-prioritize throughout the day and leave urgent tasks undone when I log off fills me with absolute dread.

How do I approach this with my manager, when the only solution I can see is to allow me to continue working longer hours (which has explicitly been taken off the table)?

So this is almost definitely about the fact that your company doesn’t want to pay overtime — and maybe truly can’t afford to.

In general, that’s not an unreasonable stance for companies to take. They’ve budgeted a certain amount for salaries, and blowing that budget with lots of overtime can be disastrous for their ability to meet their financial obligations in other areas. That’s just a business reality, and when you talk to your boss about how to navigate your current situation, you don’t want to come across as if you don’t understand that.

But it’s also a business reality that you can’t dramatically increase people’s workloads and expect them to fit it all into the same hours. Nor can you expect a half-staffed team to perform as if it were fully staffed. And if you do have extra work or fewer people (in your case, you have both), you’ll need your employees working longer hours (which you pay for) or you’ll need to scale back their workloads. Short of magical elves, there aren’t other options.

So where does that leave you? It sounds like you need to clearly lay out for your boss what you can and can’t get done in the amount of hours she’s willing to authorize. Run down everything that’s on your plate and how long it’s taking you to plow through it all in an average week. Then, get explicit about trade-offs and how to prioritize. For example: “If you want me to stick to 40 hours a week, I’ll be able to do A, B, and C but not D. Or if D is more important, I’d need to move A off my plate to make room for it. Or I could act as an adviser to someone else on A, but I can’t do A myself if I’m also doing B, C, and D.”

If your manager pushes back, you can say, “The other option would be to work more hours to get it all done, which I can do but it would mean working overtime. If that’s off the table, realistically it can’t all get done — especially while we’re short staffed — so I want to make sure I’m making the right choices in how I prioritize everything.”

You’ll also probably need to remain constantly vigilant. It’s pretty common for managers to agree to this kind of reprioritization but then start adding new work to your plate again soon after. If that happens, you’ll need to hold firm about boundaries — as in, “If I do X, it means that A and B will need to wait until next week. Is that okay, or should I hold off on X for now and keep prioritizing the other work?”

But what you shouldn’t do is to just continue pushing to work overtime when you’ve already received a firm no. That’s going to be irritating to your manager and make it look like you’re ignoring the company’s financial constraints. This will probably feel more intuitive if you imagine yourself in your employer’s shoes. Imagine you’d hired a contractor to remodel your kitchen, and you gave them a budget to work with. You’d want to know what could be done within that budget and would probably be pretty annoyed if they kept pushing to go over the budget when you’d asked them not to. Your situation at work is on a larger scale, obviously, but it’s not all that different. You’ve just got to keep being clear about what you can and can’t do within the time allotted and let your “customer” (your employer) decide how it wants you using that time.

There’s another piece of this, though, and it’s one that I suspect will be hard for you: your personal stress over having to regularly reprioritize and leave some work undone. Ultimately, your responsibility is not to get everything done, if your workload is greater than your hours allow. Your responsibility is to proactively communicate with your manager, so she knows what is and isn’t getting done, and then to carry out the plan to which the two of you agree.

Now, it sounds like you’re a conscientious person who wants to take care of the work in your realm, and having to operate like this might make your job less satisfying. It can suck some of the joy out of work when you’re constantly having to make compromises about where your time and attention can go and regularly having to negotiate priorities with your boss.

But you’ve got to recognize that, for whatever reason, your company is choosing to limit how much work it’s paying for. It gets to do that! It might have good reasons for doing that … or, who knows, it might not. But you can’t be more invested than the company is in everything getting done.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 90 comments… read them below }

  1. bubbleon*

    Whatever you do, do NOT think that you can work an extra hour here or there and not report it for overtime. I know it can be tempting if you’re able to work without being officially clocked in or out through a tracking system, but you’ll end up giving your manager and company an unrealistic expectation for the work that can be done in 40 hours and cheating yourself out of payment on top of the potential legal issues.

    1. NotAPirate*

      I agree with this!

      You also set future coworkers for failure. “Well OP could do ABCDEFGHIJKL in 40 hours you must be incompetent if you’re only getting ABC done.” I got told that essentially at one point, sent to coworker to ask their secret tricks and it turned out they were working unpaid overtime and taking risky shortcuts in procedures. My boss then had to be looped in, it was awkward for everyone.

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        This 100%. I used to work a billable hours job and they started insisting I cut my hours but then got mad when less work got done. I couldn’t understand how my coworkers were making it work until I discovered their secret – bill 8 hours and then go home and work 2-4 more in the evening. I wish I had just walked away right then but to my shame I ended up working the 10/12 hour days for awhile until I realized how sick and miserable it was making me and got the courage to walk away with nothing lined up.

        So yea – don’t set the expectation that more can be done in less hours. NotAPirate I’m so glad your boss wanted to fix it! My boss all but encouraged the fake standards to make themselves look good to the higher ups.

      2. Door Guy*

        I was once asked if I thought my coworkers couldn’t do their jobs when I self-volunteered to work a handful of hours. I was a supervisor and point of contact for my team, the supervisor for the other team was on PTO, and the other 2 supervisors and our boss were going to be in a big meeting at our sister location and they’d be getting 4 teams worth of phone calls. I didn’t think and answered an email (sent to the office, not specifically to me) and a minute later my phone was ringing and it was our regional manager who threatened to make me leave my phone and laptop at the office every night if I didn’t stop working on my days off. He was leading the meeting and knew I was off that day and saw my email pop up.

    2. Flannel*

      I agree.

      This happened to me recently. Our team had an influx of documents, which are typically handled by one particular team member. We have a backup person; however, the team was very short-staffed at the time. My boss volunteered someone from another department to help, which was great. They already knew what the documents were and how they should be completed, so it was just a matter of showing them how to handle them. The team member trained them and they were off and running. I then get a text from this team member the following week that he had to work more than five hours off the clock the previous Friday, after already working five hours that day (it was a short day for him, as he’d already hit his 40 hours). He said he was overwhelmed, his workload was too much that week, and he couldn’t get it all done. I had to explain that he can’t do that due to potential legal issues, it creates an unrealistic expectation of him and also creates an unrealistic view of the workload overall for that role and the department overall. I also pointed out that the document reviews are not required to be completed in full at the end of every work day; therefore, he didn’t actually need to work all that time off the clock. He could have put them aside for a couple days or asked the person who was helping out to do them. He knows these documents are not urgent and that the expected time frame for completion is roughly five business days after we receive them.

    3. BenAdminGeek*

      Yup, I had a coworker doing this when I first started supervising others. We finally had to sit down with him and basically stage an intervention- we laid out that when he showed up at 6am for an 8:30 start time and left at 7 pm instead of 5, that he was setting hugely unfair expectations. He’d had another career, and I think he struggled to remember that he wasn’t salaried and this wasn’t a “stay until the work is done” scenario- he was going to get jobs eliminated because management didn’t understand how much time it took to do the work.

      1. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

        Many years ago I had a job in a very large supermarket deli. I worked the closing shift—usually there were only two of us and the deli closed at 10 pm. The unreasonable part was they insisted we serve customers right up to 10, yet also expected us to be able to clock out and go home right after 10. There was no way! No matter how much cleaning we accomplished during the shift there still was stuff to get done after we closed: mopping, taking out trash and recleaning slicers from those last minute customers. Realistically we needed at least 15-30 minutes. (By contrast when I was manager over the deli for Giant Retailer I scheduled the full crew for an hour after close for cleanup).

        All this to say I worked with this older Scottish lady who would clock out then go back and finish all the work. Even though I was very young I knew that was wrong and told her that’s why Management could have such unreasonable expectations about how long cleanup takes and their scheduling needs to reflect that. Thinking back, we had to be members of the Meatcutters Union to work in the deli (rather than the grocery workers union ). I wish I had filed a grievance with my union.

    4. TardyTardis*

      Amen! If you work free overtime, they’ll just keep on adding more stuff to take advantage of it.

  2. hmmm*

    I know this will be hard to overcome. Only work what you are told. If it can’t get done, that is for management to figure out. Upper management may not realize what is needed for a specific job to get done. This is all a new territory for everyone, so I would say just do what you are told to do.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Make this a management problem not a you a problem. If it can’t get done i n 40 hours, it can’t get done in 40 hours. Management wants you to only work 40 hours while keeping your team understaffed. If you continue to try to solve the problem yourself, management doesn’t know this is a problem. You have to make them aware of it— continually. Don’t let it slip even once.

      You say you are not burned out and what else are you going to do with your time. When you are only working 40 hours a week, you can do anything you want — craft, read a book, walk the dog, take a nap, sit on the couch and stare at mindless tv so your brain gets a break. All kinds of things that are not — and this is key — work.

      1. rayray*

        This is the exact approach I took at a past job. It was helpful to take back my free time and personal life, rather than slaving away at a keyboard til I was exhausted. And guess what? Both the company and I survived. Work still got done and I still had my personal time at the end of the day. I never chose to be a manager or partner, I just worked the 40 hours a week that we agreed on when I was hired.

      2. NoviceManagerGuy*

        “Make this a management problem not a you a problem.”
        This, this, this!

      3. OP (raaaleigh)*

        Yes, thank you! I know I have a hard time keeping it in mind that it’s ultimately not my responsibility if I’m doing what I’m told and putting in my 40 hours. What can I say, I like to be useful….

        1. Door Guy*

          I fell into this trap and was working 15+ hour days at least 2-3 times a week, and working 6 days a week regularly anyways.

          I ended up a giant mess, a ball of anxiety with a short temper just trying to get everything done while they piled on more and more responsibilities. At one point I did the work of 2 supervisors because they didn’t replace one who left for over 6 months and they just had me absorb his entire team. I had the largest team in the 28 office company at that point, and I worked like a dog to meet my monthly goals. My reward? Being told that “people up high in the company have noticed.” Great, that totally makes up for not being able to spend time with or see my wife and kids.

          I finally started to let the balls I was desperately juggling start to drop and it was horrible for me. I hated not finishing things, I hated not helping people, but I was out of hours in the day. People complained – part of the problem was that we had too many chiefs and they all thought their needs were the most important, but when I could tell my boss exactly what I had to do that day and ask him where I was supposed to fit the other things in, all he would say was that I needed to get my work done.

          I did find a new job and have been here a year. It’s not perfect, but one wonderful thing is that even though I’m management, my time outside of business hours is MINE outside of rare emergencies.

  3. Dagny*

    This is one of the many situations in which your manager is being paid good money to make these hard choices and communicate them up the line. If you cannot get your work done in 40 hours, it’s your manager’s job to tell you what areas to focus on, what to let slide, and to communicate the problems with her higher-ups.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      This is so incredibly true. What does and doesn’t get done isn’t up to the frontline staff, it’s up to the managers. They get paid to stress about it and make plans and deal with upset customers. It can feel like you are in charge of your own work, but you are really in charge of doing the work you are allocated. The manager allocates the work.

  4. Bella*

    ugh thats such a bad position. TWICE at my old job departments were understaffed after ppl quit, and the org just decided to not replace them despite the extra work definitely being more than what they could handle, and despite it even being way outside of the realm of what they were hired for.

    The problem is that there’s often such a remove between top management & you, that without a ton of pushback, they might think “o great, looks like we can actually do this with one less person!’

  5. Cordoba*

    If management is not willing to pay for your overtime to get these tasks done then they must not think the tasks are actually that “urgent”.

    So if the bosses aren’t stressing about this work then neither should LW.

    If they ever bring it up explain that you’ll be happy to take care of whatever work they have for you as long as they’re paying you to do it.

    1. allathian*

      Within limits. 80-hour workweeks aren’t healthy for anyone. I doubt I could survive working for much more than 50 hours a week for long. I work for the government in the Nordics and I work full time, at 36.75 hours per week. In the US, in many places, I suspect that would count as working part time.

  6. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    OP, this is not your problem to solve. They either pay you overtime to complete all of the work they’ve assigned to you, or you don’t get it all done in your allotted time. They can’t have it both ways. And you need to work on not feeling guilty about it. Even if you were a salaried employee that was not paid overtime, this is only sustainable for so long. Present the facts to your manager, and let them decide how to solve it.

    1. cmcinnyc*

      Truly this. The only part of it the OP can solve is staying on the same page as her manager about priorities. If there are 10 things that need doing, you need to be super clear on what comes first, second, third. You start with #1 and work your way down. The 8 hour workday will end, and you will not have completed all 10. Such is life. Tomorrow you check in with your manager: do you pick up where you left off or is there a new priority today? Because of course there will be 10 more things. Right now is not normal. You have to mentally unhitch from that “falling behind” panic. The company is doing what they need to do to stay afloat: hold payroll steady.

    2. Anon Anon*

      Yes! I am a salaried employee and I’ve been very clear that I cannot work more than 40 hours a week regularly. We are also down a person in my department. So there is work that is not going to get done. I do not have the ability to work around the clock to make sure it all gets done, even if I’m salaried. Besides I’ve been there done that, and all I got for it was more work.

  7. Mama Bear*

    And document, document, document, so that you have record of what’s dropping and why and that management signed off on it.

    1. HereForKnowledge*

      Came here to say this. Anything said in a phone call needs to be typed up afterward & e-mailed to your manager so that you have a record of the agreement.

    2. Observer*

      Yes, this. 100%

      Given how management is handling this, you can be sure that you WILL need the documentation.

    3. OP (raaaleigh)*

      Yes!! I struggle with this (because it takes time lol), but you’re right that it’s really important to communicate what’s not getting done.

      1. Mockingjay*

        Also, this kind of record keeping is useful for managers. When this pandemic is over and business as usual resumes (whatever the new normal may be), metrics on staff levels and work completed/not completed can be used to justify staff increases, or the purchase of the new widget system, etc.

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          ^^ This. One job I worked at had us track time, even when we were salary, mostly for billing purposes. A few folks were not bothering to log any unbillable tasks after they logged 40 hours, since they weren’t going to get paid overtime. I told them they should still log absolutely everything simply because when it came time for salary negotiations, promotions, or even just deciding if we actually needed another team member or not, if the work wasn’t tracked, it didn’t exist.

          This is kind of the opposite if that, but it is still true. Your manager needs good, hard data surrounding what you guys do and how long it takes when the time comes to show upper management why another team member isn’t just a good idea, it’s necessary.

  8. Ashley*

    One thought if you are limited to 8 hour days on top of 40 hours is around hour 7 email your manager what you aren’t going to get done that might be urgent and your plans for tomorrow. This may give them time to jump in and help with urgent or help you reprioritize.

    1. Annony*

      Also, when you get a new urgent request, let them know what urgent request will be dropped to get this one done.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        Yep. “OP, IT is asking for X. Can you get that to them today” “Sure! Just know that doing that means that I most likely will not be able to get to Y until tomorrow. Let me know if that’s a problem.”

        It won’t really increase the amount of time you spend on email etc. If you mention these things in the moment.

  9. Akcipitrokulo*

    Your bosses are aware that restrictions mean compromises on what can be achieved.

    Your part is to make sure you and your boss are on same page on what will not be done.

    Some will not be. That decision has been made. Take a breath, accept that all tasks will NOT be completed, and ensure the ones you do complete are the right ones.

    Also remember that your boss knows this on some level – but having it spelt out with “I can do X out of Y tasks. Which ones should I drop?” is helpful to both.

    Finally – it is ok to do this!!!

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I agree– I see nothing in the letter that the LW’s bosses are pressuring her to get things done. Yes, there are business partners who need information, but if they get frustrated by the circumstances, then that’s on the managers who need to communicate that things will be delayed.

      Being able to work overtime in normal circumstances is great, but these are not normal circumstances. And I understand the discomfort with leaving things undone, I do, but I urge the LW to focus on the bigger picture– namely that the company has made these changes for its financial benefit, and going against them right now is not a good idea.

      1. Colette*

        Yeah, the option may not be “work overtime and do everything” or “don’t work overtime and don’t finish everything”. It may be “don’t work overtime and don’t finish everything” or “get laid off due to budgetary issues and don’t finish anything”.

        1. Observer*

          Well, working off the clock is not really a viable option. AND it won’t even guarantee the OP their job anyway. If they can’t staff appropriately to handle the increased business, then they are having enough trouble that I wouldn’t count on their long term health. Either that or they are just bad managers, and the OP will either get pushed out or need to escape for their own sanity.

  10. Sara without an H*

    I’ve said it in other posts until I’m blue: right now, the most important thing managers can do is review all projects and deadlines and reprioritize workloads down to something their staff can actually get done under present circumstances. If you have to push back against unrealistic expectations from your own senior leadership — well, that’s part of the job.

    OP, you sound very conscientious. I wonder, though — is putting in a lot of hours your way of keeping anxiety at bay? Fear is spreading faster than the virus itself, and a 60 hour workweek can be a way to tamp down emotional distress. Keep this in mind as you cut back on your schedule. You may want to make a rather specific plan for things you’ll do after you log off in the evening. I’d recommend something that does not involve more screen time. Combing the internet in search of the latest rumor is not good for mental or emotional health.

    You don’t say how frequently you’ve been checking in with your manager. You may want to ask for at least weekly check-ins now, since it’s going to be important to stay aligned with your manager’s priorities — and to make sure that your manager’s priorities are in line with reality. Alison’s point about expectation creep is a good one.

    Hang in there. This, too, shall pass.

    1. OP (raaaleigh)*

      Thank you!! I’ve always been a “keep busy” person, so I think that’s why I don’t mind working extra hours right now…better than trying to find more things to do around my apartment. The check-ins are a great idea…we connect pretty frequently, but it’s usually about a specific topic, not a general check on priorities or workload.

      1. Sara without an H*

        OK, that’s your first step. It will help if you put together an agenda in advance, especially if your manager isn’t completely current on what you do on a day to day basis. He/she may not realize exactly how much you have on your plate.

        As for finding “more things to do around my apartment” — have you thought of looking for some professional development opportunities you could pursue online? Depending on your field, you can find something that would let you improve your skills for little or no cost.

        Just don’t let yourself get lured back into social media or online news. That way madness lies.

  11. So glad I'm out of there*

    “But you can’t be more invested than the company is in everything getting done.”

    This is the main thing to take away here – you can’t care more than the company does about this, at this time. And the “at this time” is more important than ever right now.

  12. NotAPirate*

    Also, offer to give your manager a breakdown of hours per task. My boss is “time blind” saying something should happens means 30 seconds later it is done, right? He responded really well to me listing durations at him, to the point where he asks other direct reports to do so as well.

    Simple estimates, like procedure A should take me about 3 hours if nothing goes weird, last time XYZ went wrong and added 2 hours to it, so 2-4 hours. Boss saying A, B, and C need to happen today doesn’t mean they can all fit in a day. I respond back A should take 2 hours, B takes 30 min to launch and then 4 hours running and then 30 min hands on at the end, C takes 6 hours, I can do two of them but not all 3. Boss and I then talk through which is priority and which have other things depending on them and agree to two of them. After a couple times doing that, my boss now remember the math too and it’s made project assignments a lot smoother, we know plan out weeks worth of experiments instead of days as a result too. Some bosses never did the tasks you are doing, some did them with very different requirements, so you have to let them when know they are being unreasonable.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Some bosses never did the tasks you are doing, some did them with very different requirements, so you have to let them when know they are being unreasonable.

      This is so important. Too often we assume that our managers know exactly what we do, how we do it, and how long it will take. That’s mostly not the case — even if the OP’s manager used to do the same work, it was probably under very different circumstances, used different software, etc.

      1. Uranus Wars*

        I also think the opposite can be true – I once worked for someone who, when she had my job, did not know how to run formulas or use IF/THEN statements in excel. So she would give me something to do and when I had it done in 30 minutes she was convinced that I did it incorrectly because it took her half a day or more. This has nothing to do with OP other than agreeing that outlining exactly what you are doing and how long it takes is important…for all the tasks.

  13. Artemesia*

    Bosses who do this are often hoping to guilt you into working off the books. This is bad for you and bad ultimately for the business. Work efficiently and well — which is sounds like your are doing. Prioritize today. When it is 7:30 hours, summarize quickly what has been done and what has not and state your priorities and ask the boss about her priorities. Since you cannot get everything done short staffed and without overtime make explicit what you are letting go and ask if those things go to the head of the line tomorrow or if XYand Z are more important. Don’t be apologetic. You are a conscientious competent hard worker — you are not magic. Do what you can, make priorities clear, ask for guidance. But own what is possible and don’t apologize or cringe before the boss because you can’t do more than you. can do.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I had a boss that pressured me to work off the clock. “You have to get everything done and you cannot ‘clock-in’ any extra hours. There is no more overtime, but your workload is not changing. Do you understand?”
      And ya know what happened when it came out that he was pressuring people to work off the clock? WE were all blamed and accused instead of him.
      Not worth it. Do the work you can, and walk away for the evening.

    2. OP (raaaleigh)*

      I will say I think my boss actually has good intentions here…as I posted in my update, we met later and she let us know the ask wasn’t even coming from the company, it was her desire to keep us from burning out. So the overtime pay is not a problem, and she did adjust the ask to a genuine “ask” rather than a requirement of only working 8 hour days.

  14. Massmatt*

    It really sounds as though the LW’s manager is NOT doing very thing she can if there hasn’t been any discussion of what to prioritize and what to let go.

    10 pounds of crap won’t fit in an 8 pound bag. You are trying to jerry-rig a larger bag, which will wind up bursting, leaving you covered in crap. You need to put no more than 8 pounds in the bag. Get your manager to tell you which 8 items should go in the bag and which 2 should be left off.

    If her answer is some variant of “everything is a priority” then you know you have a terrible manager.

      1. Artemesia*

        There are plenty of people who could work smarter and plenty of people who diddle around all day, chatting and surfing and eating at the office who could work harder. — but yeah — if you are efficient and work hard when working — only so much can get done.

  15. Employment Lawyer*

    Finding a solution isn’t your job. It’s your manager’s job (or perhaps the CEO’s job.) You cannot do the same work in less time with fewer people, and the company is going to have to make choices.

    Frankly your letter is really quite clear:
    1) You’re short staffed–half the people, same work.
    2) You can hardly do the work right now because you’re short staffed, and even that is not really sustainable
    3) If you work fewer hours you will have to start rejecting work. The new assessment, communication, and selection process itself takes time, so this will be even less efficient than it seems: Maybe you normally do 40 projects in 40 hours, but if you drop to 30 hours and have to pick/choose/communicate from 40 potential projects, then you can probably only do 25 projects. (If the firm only gives you 30 projects you can still do those.)
    4) You are happy to do whatever they want but nothing they say will allow you to do the same work in less time with fewer people.

    Put the problem before your manager–clearly, nicely, professionally–and ask for guidance.

  16. NYWeasel*

    Being new, there may also be an opportunity to challenge some “traditions” that might not be necessary. A friend of mine (with her boss’ blessing) just stopped doing certain things and waited to see who complained. It turned out no one needed/used any of the work she’d been drowning in. If you regularly run reports, analyses, etc, it might be worth testing to see what’s actually of value to your stakeholders.

    1. Liz*

      I’ve done that as well, over the years, in my current job. Some things just really weren’t necessary anymore, and were holdovers from pre-tech and electronic times, such as printing out a copy of every filing we did, indexing and placing in a binder. As long as we have an electronic copy, since that’s how we file, no need to keep a paper one as well.

      My boss was kind of like wellllllllll, and i brought out my favorite phrase “its not really an efficient use of my time to do that anymore” vs. saying its a waste of time.

      some he pushed back on, but then came to realize my way was better, and others he and no one else even noticed weren’t being done anymore!

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This is also a great opportunity to revise some processes if at all possible to make them more efficient. I’m one of those people who likes to make things as easy as possible. When I started my current position, there was a form we had to fill out and I was trained to do it by hand. It occasionally involved listing a dozen or more pieces of information.

      I created a form on Microsoft Word with fields that could be typed in and checklists that we could use instead of having to write lists. It saves SO much time. (And one of my coworkers refuses to use it to this day, almost two years later).

    3. introverted af*

      One good way to approach this, especially if your boss is nervous things might get missed or dropped, is to cut how often you run that report in half, instead of cutting it completely, and trying that for 3-4 cycles. Then you can see what the impacts are before making a permanent decision, or the decision to cut the reporting entirely.

  17. KimberlyR*

    OP, I think you need to have 2 conversations-1 big picture conversation of what you and coworker can do, as 2 people instead of 4. But then you also need to talk about what you’ll do while your coworker is out. Just like you and your coworker can’t do the work of 4 people, you cannot do the work of 2 people doing the work of 4 people. So talk about big picture and day-to-day goals for the 2 of you, but also for just you next week. What absolutely must get done? What generally needs to get done, but can wait until your coworker gets back? What MUST be done, no matter what? Sit with your coworker, come up with something y’all can agree with for everyday, and then also think about what you HAVE to cover while your coworker is out. Come prepared with timeframes and your idea of what the priority list is. Your boss may disagree with the priority list and help you revamp it, but at least you’ll have a starting point. If you go to your boss out of the blue and ask what your priorities should be, boss is likely to say, “All of it.” If you come prepared with the timeframes it takes to do A, B, C, and the time it takes to run reports X, Y, Z, and you can show that its more than 8 hours of work for 2 people (or just yourself, if you’re only speaking to your workload), its much harder for your boss to tell you to focus on “all” of it.

  18. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

    It’s simple—do the math: first of all you say the workload has doubled, so that’s 80 hours of work to be done in a 40-hour week. Then they cut your team in half, doubling the workload again, so that’s 160 hours. Now the other half of your team is gonna be gone on vacation, doubling it again to 320 hours. There is no way to do 320 hours of work in a 40-hour week! Even with a couple hours overtime here and there! Your boss needs to seriously look at the workload and figure out what can realistically be done in a 40-hour week.

  19. Aria*

    What would you say is going on if the letter writer was exempt?

    I think my office is doing that – they’re “closing the office” for a few more days than necessary around Memorial Day because they think it’ll help with burnout. I know that unlike an hourly employee I could just work if I have work to do, but that seems
    weird and not a good precedent

    1. Uranus Wars*

      Personally I think if they are closing extra to help with burnout then you should take your cue from them and just not work. Take a break. Plus if you manage others it could give them the impression that this is an expectation moving forward.

    2. Amy Sly*

      If she was exempt, she should still be pushing back a bit to find out what the priorities are and limiting herself to what can be done in a reasonable work day. (I find that an eight and a half to nine hour day is both sustainable and a good compromise among what needs to be done, how much I can realistically do, and how hard I need to work to feel like I deserve my salary.)

    3. Koala dreams*

      I think it’s the same solution. Some companies value a 40 hour work week, and if you work for that kind of company, you need to follow their rules. You ask your manager for help prioritizing, and when you get more experienced you take on more of the work of prioritizing the tasks.

      In your case, since it’s an effort to help with burnout, you can use the extra vacation for hobbies, catching up with household chores or anything you’d like, as long as it’s not regular work.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It will always depend on the company.

      Many have exempt employees still on a standard time table of 40 hours or higher depending on the industry. But they aren’t a free for all “We will pile work and drain every hour of work out of you as possible.”

      So still address the time issues.

      But yeah, sadly there are also exempt positions that I personally found myself in years ago now. They didn’t care if I spent 60 hours and if I needed to spend 70 hours instead, they didn’t care, all they cared about was that shit was getting done. [Shocker, shit started not getting done even when I tried…then they got mad about that, despite having had me waving flags all over the place, ew.] [But this was a toxic wastedump and normal, decent management don’t want you to drown in their work loads. ]

      So just take the extra time off!

  20. hbc*

    “The idea of having to constantly reprioritize throughout the day and leave urgent tasks undone when I log off fills me with absolute dread.” This is going to sound harsh, but that’s more of a personal problem than an employer or boss problem. They are telling you that they don’t want those tasks done. You not making overtime is more important for this company than that thing left in your queue at the end of the day, and you can sign off knowing that this is you doing your job.

    Don’t get me wrong, I completely sympathize. If you’ve spent your life with clear metrics about what to get done (10 page paper in by 10:00 Wednesday, TPS report every week) and time to do them, it will feel like you’re failing. But like many things we dread, once we start doing it, it’s not as bad as we imagined. Plus, being able to triage and reprioritize are skills that become more important if you want to advance.

    1. James*

      I second that it’s not as bad as you imagine.

      What you dread is how I have to work. I have my priorities, and my plans for the day–and those last until I’m done with my first cup of coffee. By the time I pour my second I’ve already had three emails, a meeting, and two in-person conversations that have torpedoed my plans. You roll with it, prioritize on the fly, figure out who you can afford to annoy by not getting their work done, and do what you can. Some people hate it. I enjoy it–if you do it right, it’s like riding the crest of a wave, where everything is balanced and everything is getting done with no wasted time.

  21. Uranus Wars*

    If I am reading this right, it sounds like OP is assuming all work MUST. BE. DONE. I realize that is a reality in a lot of industries right now, but in ours we have been understanding of the need to prioritize based on what is workable in each employees situation – exempt or non-exempt and expect a full week’s paycheck.

    So if you are a single parent working from home AND homeschooling and 70% productivity is what you can give – that is fine and you get paid for 100%. If you generally work from home and can work at capacity, do that. If you generally work from home but are feeling anxious/stressed, etc about the current global crisis and can work at 60% that’s ok too. If you are routinely working 50 hours please don’t do that and let us know what we can do to help.

    I don’t have kids at home or a spouse. Just me and my cat, so if I can do a little more to alleviate the burden of my team I do – but I am a manager so ultimately I see my job as to support them as much as I can during this crazy time (one has a toddler with a healthcare spouse working the COVID unit) and giving them as much grace as I can as long as they minimally meet expectations and get the basics done.
    On a side note, I really like Alison’s comparison to a contractor continually going over budget without checking in – I will need to keep that in mind when I get frustrated!

    1. Uranus Wars*

      Long winded comment to say: have the conversation with your boss and don’t feel bad about leaving things undone if the company is ultimately ok with that.

  22. Nethwen*

    “Ultimately, your responsibility is not to get everything done, if your workload is greater than your hours allow.”

    I have to explain this to almost every “first job” employee because their position is the sort where the task will never be done. (Think teapot painting where manufacturing sends a shipment of blank teapots every day, but might send two shipments if production went faster than normal and sometimes we get a good deal and have three shipments.)

    No matter how I’ve framed the expectations, we always end up in a conversation where they are stressed because they can never catch up and I’m explaining again that the nature of the job is that there will always be more to do and what I care about is that they are using their time doing work (rather than socializing or however else employees while away the time). More experienced employees get it and understand that output reporting is designed to set expectations that take into account their abilities. Less experienced ones get stuck in “catch up” mode and see output reporting as a way to catch them in being lazy and can’t seem to comprehend any other way of understanding their role or the accountability structures.

    1. LizM*

      I had a job in grad school like this, except the way it was set up and the way my boss billed clients, she could basically afford unlimited overtime.

      She was very clear with me that she would not turn my work down, and she wouldn’t track my workload. She would keep a list of things I could do, and if there was work to be done, and I had the time gland desire, I could do the work.

      That said, she only expected me to work the 20 hour schedule we’d agreed to, and I could take additional unpaid time off if I needed to because of a big paper or test. If she assigned me an urgent task at 3:30 that would take 2 hours and I was scheduled to leave at 4, her expectation wasn’t that I had to stay late. I could if I wanted the extra hours, but it was also acceptable to tell her, “If I drop everything, I won’t get the Smith file done today, and I’m leaving in half an hour, so I will only be able to start on the Jones file, I won’t be able to finish it until I come back on Thursday. Is that what you want, or do you want me to wrap up the Smith file?” We had these conversations at least weekly, sometimes daily.

      There were a lot of things about that job that made me want to pull my hair out, but learning to draw those boundaries around my personal time and discuss clear expectations and priorities with my manager have been skills I’ve used ever since.

      The most frustrating job I left since then was a manager who refused those conversations and just repeated, “Do your best ” and would not engage in setting priorities or provide me any cover when the workload was not reasonable for one person. But other than her, most managers have seemed to appreciate the openness I use to communicate what is and is not possible in the time I’ve been given. I know I encourage that level of dialogue with my direct reports.

  23. Steveo*

    “Ultimately, your responsibility is not to get everything done, if your workload is greater than your hours allow. Your responsibility is to proactively communicate with your manager, so she knows what is and isn’t getting done, and then to carry out the plan to which the two of you agree.”

    This is why managers exist.

  24. Person from the Resume*

    One thing that may be too late now, but is worth a shot …

    Since your teammate is on vacation next week, ask if you can be exempt from the overtime restrictions ONLY that week since you will literally doing the work of two people and there will be one person working 40 hours instead of two working 80 hours together. I am assuming you’ll be doing your job and his job. If someone else is helping, then disregard.

    But you don’t want be that guy who can’t follow guidance and keeps asking for overtime.

  25. Koala dreams*

    Alison’s advice is good. You need to prioritize. You can ask your manager to help you, of course. Often the manager will have more knowledge about which tasks are considered important and which can be left for next day or next week. It’s a good time to start having these conversations now, as the change from regular overtime to 40 hour weeks is a new policy. As you get more experienced, you will be expected to take on more of the prioritizing. Prioritizing tasks is part of the job, especially in many professional jobs. Not the most fun one, admittedly, but it’s an important task to learn. I still struggle from time to time, and use similar language as written in the article: “I can do either A or B today, which one is more important to do right now?”

  26. GreyjoyGardens*

    I want to echo what other commenters are saying – it’s time to drop the rope. It is the job of upper management to figure out how things are going to get done without you working unpaid overtime. If you drop the rope, they will have to pay attention.

    Definitely go to your own boss and lay the situation out: you have 40 hours in a week and X number of tasks. What has priority? What absolutely MUST get done during the 40 hours a week that you have? You want to have this butt-covering, well-documented talk with YOUR boss just so that the consequences rain down on heads that are not yours.

  27. Nonprofit Nancy*

    Yep, this person does not get it. They’re not asking you to limit your hours because they care about you – they’re informing you that they’re not able to pay anyone any more overtime. This isn’t uncommon in other jobs I’ve worked, where you have to request and be approved for overtime, but OP might be encountering this situation for the first time. It’s not a “nice to do.” It’s a budget reality.

  28. James*

    I would recommend making a spreadsheet (if possible) showing the tasks in one column, the time per task in a second column, and a total at the bottom. Take that to your manager during this discussion. That way, when the manager says “I need you to do A, B, C, D, E, and F” you can say “But those are all 2-hour tasks, and that totals 10 hours a day.” It gives you a metric for prioritizing beyond what feels like the most important tasks are, and that in turn gives you leverage to push back against any unworkable suggestions.

    The other advantage is that this shows you’ve put serious thought into this problem. We’ve all worked with people who can get 8 hours of pay out of 4 hours of work; someone who sits down and thinks through their workload, on paper, isn’t one of those people. I’m not accusing you of being one; the point of this is to pre-empt any suspicion on your boss’s part that you are one. (If you are on good terms with your boss, this may not be an issue; I just don’t know, and plan for the worst most of the time.)

  29. GB*

    Another part of the conversation with you boss needs to be about who is going to communicate the revised priorities and time constraints to your business partners (I am assuming this means external clients). Your job is to keep your clients satisfied. With the constraints you’re under, it doesn’t seem like all their needs can be met. Some one needs to tell them… in a way that preserves your relationship with the clients and makes it clear that this is a company decision.

    1. OP (raaaleigh)*

      This is a really good point! Normally I would be responsible for updating everyone, but in some cases it would almost definitely be better received coming from someone higher up, communicating our priorities (instead of just me deciding what I feel like working on)

    2. A Penny for Your Idea!*

      Yes! It sounds like this is a key issue for the OP. S/he may be in a position where those business partners give them grief for not doing what the business partners have been able to get done in the past. They may think it’s because the OP is lazy or not competent if they don’t know the reality of having only half as many staff to do the work. I wouldn’t want to be in the position where I have to deal with upset people who think I’m not doing my job properly.

      1. A Penny for Your Idea!*

        Oops, sorry OP, I didn’t see you had already responded to this. (And congratulations on your good news update!)

  30. raaaleigh*

    OP here with a sort-of update!
    My manager actually called us the day after I sent this in to say she’d discussed further with her boss, and they recognized it was unreasonable to *require* that we only work 8 hours. She actually told us the overtime pay wasn’t an issue, and this directive was mostly coming from her wanting to make sure we didn’t burn out by working too much (especially with only two people full-time in this position).
    So the requirement turned into a request, and we’ve had several constructive conversations since about how to make sure the workload is manageable and our hours are reasonable. We’re getting a little bit of help from some people whose projects were put on hold, which takes some basic but time-consuming tasks off my plate.
    We’re still very busy (so I will definitely be making use of this advice in the coming weeks!), but I am a lot less stressed knowing I can work an extra hour or so a day to get urgent tasks completed–with full support of my manager and the company. Fingers crossed I’ll have time to participate in our half-day Fridays this summer……..

    1. allathian*

      Great update! I’m glad your boss is a reasonable person who doesn’t want you to burn out, but who also understands that sometimes it’s less stressful to complete a task if it takes an extra hour rather than leave it unfinished for the day.

  31. Richard*

    This is always the hardest decision when what you’re working on is a project with your name on it as the lead. It’s very tempting to put in the extra time if you know the people who see it won’t know that you didn’t have enough time to do it correctly, just that you didn’t do it correctly.

  32. Checkert*

    I have this special skill at getting hired at jobs that I consistently end up in a leadership type position without any of the pay, authority, etc. (Side note: my background is hard for people to draw the line to see the culmination of my capabilities and while I’ve tailored my resume to death and back, it’s only gotten me so far). My current position at least comes with a statement of work that the client is always testing the boundaries of and my leadership is all too quick at jumping to the ‘yes’ on my behalf. They also have been unable to replace my coworker who is on a leave of absence for personal reasons as well as the old team lead, leaving me holding all the balloons and leadership dipping in and out enough to lay claim to ‘managing’ it while actually doing nothing (and sometimes causing more issues). It’s a very fine line to walk, but I’ve had success with working within my compensation and overcommunicating everything that threatens that. Client has requests beyond scope? Leadership gets to be the person examining the SOW and figuring out what resources they can offer me if they decide to say yes. Me doing the work of 3 people? Means I’m not going to be making all 8 tag up meetings a week for leadership to ‘just check in’. Find the line where it becomes unreasonable for you to stretch beyond your means/abilities/pay, and make sure your management is aware of that and that you’ll likely be coming to them far more to help you with this resource issue.

  33. Amy*

    For video interviews, I think lighting and computer placement are more important than visible hair roots. (Though like everyone else, I recommend the temporary powder – it’s like hair spray and takes 20 seconds) I’m on a lot of WebEx calls right now and some people seem much more professional than others.

    I’m sure there are some how-tos somewhere. But what works for me is placing my laptop up at face level so you’re not staring down into the screen or peering up (which would also emphasize the roots.)
    I used 3 thick coffee table books. Then finding a soft light that shines from behind the computer into your face. Finally either blurring the background or making sure it’s very professional or bland.

    I’d much rather have visible roots but a very professional set-up, than perfect roots and awkward angles and bad lighting. Good luck.

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