I’ve been overworked for months and my manager won’t help

A reader writes:

I have been covering for a coworker who is the lead for our shared role for the past two months. Covering her for a few days would normally have been no problem, but due to our clinic being short-staffed and an increase in clientele, this is starting to take its toll on my productivity and mental health. Conversations with my managers haven’t been productive — they say a bunch of stuff but nothing happens, no help gets hired in, and I’ve had no increase in pay.

I’m over two months behind on my paperwork because I’m balancing doing four people’s jobs some days. The job I originally was hired to do has become my last priority most days. I feel like a failure because I’m crying every day, I’m not being paid enough to even function (my car is literally on its last leg), and I’m being overworked so much that I can’t look or interview anywhere else. I get in at 7 am to try to get a head start and usually skip my lunch and I don’t leave until 5:30 or 6 some days. I even tried for a promotion to escape from the work and they thought I wasn’t qualified … even though I’m nearly single-handedly running a clinic in less than nine months since I started.

I can’t just decide to go back to working eight hours a day because of the number of clients who are now being scheduled. I don’t have the option of electing to see only half of the people who are scheduled with us. I then have to enter in all the data from those visits or else it goes unprocessed and leaves an even bigger mess for me to crawl my way out of. Plus, if our paperwork isn’t done in a timely fashion, it could affect our future funding. So I feel stuck working all these hours, and my managers won’t help. How do I escape this situation?

You’re not stuck! You’ve just let your company make you believe that you’re stuck.

Right now, this is all your problem because you’ve agreed — through your actions rather than your words — to make it your problem. Your managers don’t have an incentive to find real solutions because your apparent willingness to continue being overworked is their solution. (To be clear, if they were decent people or decent managers, their incentive would be that this is horrible and unsustainable for you. But apparently that’s not a concern for them.)

You said you can’t let work drop because it could affect the organization’s future funding. But if your management cared about that as much as you do, they would be putting other plans in place, like hiring additional staff to replace people who leave. They’re not doing those things, so right now you’re operating as if you care more about keeping the organization afloat than your employer does, no matter what the personal cost to you.

I think it will help immensely if you can get clearer in your own mind about what your responsibilities are versus what management’s are. Your job is to clearly explain what you can and can’t get done in a reasonable and sustainable amount of time. Their job is to decide what to do about the rest of it, whether it’s hiring more staff, dropping clients, cutting down on work, or whatever other solution they settle on.

Your part sounds like this: “I was willing to help out in the short-term when we were in a pinch after Jane left, but I’ve been working 11-hour days and it’s starting to affect my health. I need to return to my normal hours, which means that I will be able to do X, Y, and Z, but not A, B, and C.”

You will also need to be prepared to say things like this (both in this initial conversation and going forward if/when they try to pile more work on you):

“I can do that this week, but it means X won’t get done.”

“I want to remind you that we agreed I wouldn’t focus on X because you needed me to prioritize Y.”

“To make sure we’re all on the same page, I will focus on X for the next week, which means that I won’t be working on Y and Z.”

“X hasn’t been done at all this month and I won’t be able to do it anytime soon. I want to flag it in case you want to bring someone else in to handle it.”

“I can do X and Y, or X and Z, but not all three. My plan is to do X and as much of Y as I can get through by the 20th. Let me know if you want me to prioritize them differently.”

If you don’t set boundaries and instead try to get everything done, no matter what impact it has on your quality of life (like your sleep, or your health), you’re taking on the full burden and ensuring that your employer won’t feel the problem personally. You keep telling them it’s unsustainable, but then you do the work anyway, so from their perspective, everything is getting handled and there’s nothing they need to change. It’s working fine for them! (Again, a good manager would still intervene because this is a crappy thing to do to someone. But you clearly don’t have good managers.)

That means you need to be less invested in keeping your office running smoothly, and more invested in defending your own boundaries. It doesn’t make sense for you to be more committed to the company’s functioning than your management is, and if they were as committed as you, they would be acting on all the alarms you’ve been sending up. They’re not, so you don’t need to be either. This isn’t your company and you don’t need to run yourself into the ground to keep it afloat. Work your eight hours — work an occasional nine if you really feel like it — and then go home. You’re selling your labor during a reasonable workday; you’ve haven’t sold the rights to all your waking hours.

Because this is a change, you should give your managers a heads-up in advance: “Next week, we have patients scheduled between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. I can’t keep working 11-hour days, so I can handle the ones scheduled from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but someone else will need to cover the appointments before and after that.” If they push you to cover it all, say, “I’m not able to. I was able to pitch in for a while, but I’m not available for 11-hour days anymore. For the sake of my health, I need to return to the eight-hour day I was hired for.” The key, though, is that from then on you need to be willing to let the chips fall where they may, so that someone other than you feels the pain of the situation. Because you’re conscientious, you’re probably going to struggle with doing that, but it’s the only way your unrealistic workload is going to be solved.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 197 comments… read them below }

    1. New Mom*

      Sadly me too. We have a small department that really only needs 2-3 people for the majority of the year but then we have a busy period that lasts about 3-4 months where we really need 4+ high functioning and independent workers but all we have is 2 people at the moment. Every year during our busy period me and my one direct report are drowning in work. It relates to financial aid for low income populations so it’s a really big deal if we make mistakes, and if I were to only work eight hours a day it would really negatively impact our clients because we have short turn around times for the work.

      I’m worried because I’m going out on maternity leave and will be returning about six weeks before the busy season starts again and I just don’t think I can do it with a toddler and a newborn this next time. I also feel stuck because outside of the busy period I like my job, and the benefits and pay are truly unbeatable in my field. Sigh. I’m so sorry OP and Mid, not a fun club to be apart of.

      1. Mid*

        No, it’s really not. I hope you can get more support! Especially with a newborn and a toddler, please take care of yourself as best you can.

      2. Boof*

        Tell your supervisors now you’re going to be working standard hours/ no extra hours and they either need to hire more support during that time or take on less

    2. Anonym*

      Yeah, I needed to read this today. Alison is right, OP. Follow her advice, and then when you feel a little better, find a job where your dedication and hard work are appreciated, not taken advantage of.

      1. Mid*

        Yup. My current plan is to get all The Healthcare Stuff I’ve been putting off done, because this job, however overworked I am, does have amazing health insurance. And then give notice because I’ve been promised help for 3 years now and it’s clearly not coming.

    3. Like Raccoons*

      Hello, are you me?? I could have written this email a few months ago. But I just got a substantial raise, and limited my overtime for my mental health. I hope you can see that you’re doing them (but mostly yourself!) A disservice by burning yourself out.

      Try to remember, it doesn’t say your name on the side of the building!

  1. Anonforthis*

    If I were the LW, I’d just quit and let the chips fall where they may, and pick up whatever work I could find part time to keep a cashflow until I found a more reasonable job. The management doesn’t seem to care that LW is working themselves into the ground.

    1. Cj*

      She says she’s not being paid enough to keep herself afloat, so it sounds like she needs to find a different job for that reason alone.

      1. Can Can Cannot*

        In the meantime she needs to quit-in-place. Do the bare minimum. Come in on time and leave on time. If something doesn’t get done, it doesn’t get done. Currently she is absorbing all the pain, and her managers are not feeling it. Why wouldn’t they be good with that? Instead, make sure the managers feel some pain by not taking on more than the minimum. And use the extra time to look for a new job.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          This is the way. Many, many people cannot just quit their jobs with nothing lined up, for a lot of reasons (needing income to pay essential bills like food and housing, not qualifying for unemployment by quitting voluntarily, needing health insurance–which in the US is frequently through a person’s employer, etc.). It’s stressful and unless you have savings like OP clearly doesn’t, it’s a terrible decision that could leave you homeless and destitute.

          So you disengage. You try less and let things that aren’t your immediate problem fall away. I had to do it in my last job. I took as much PTO as possible to handle my interviews. Have one at 10 am? Still taking a full day off so I can mentally recover, send out thank you notes, brainstorm about what I could have done better/what I need to explain in more detail in the next round, etc. Get scheduled for a double shift? Clarify to my bosses that I will not be doing that and that I’ll be working my hours according to the written employee policy. Etc.

          It’s part setting actual IRL boundaries and part changing your mindset about what matters and what doesn’t. In my last job, I essentially had to go to court (as an attorney) on other people’s cases and they frequently would not get me the information I needed in advance of the court appearance despite me spending hours trying to track them down and make them give it to me. That was one of the first things I stopped doing. It wasn’t my job to manage those people or be their mommy chasing up behind them cleaning up their messes. So I would just go to court and let the judge know I didn’t have the information. The sky didn’t fall, I wasn’t reprimanded, and it was my office that ended up with a poor reputation, not me. I ended up better rested and with the free time I needed to send out job applications.

          1. Anon58*

            “not qualifying for unemployment by quitting voluntarily”
            So if her crappy manglers decide to fire her (stupidly shortsighted gi e’n she’s doing the work of four already), would she be entitled to payment?

            (Sorry, genuine question – I’ve not wrapped my head around US employment rules yet)

          2. Amaranth*

            Is it important to focus on the tasks that are actually written in their job description in this case? If they get reprimanded or fired, is it better to be getting your core work done and then attending to ‘extra’ work, or prioritizing tasks above their normal title?

        2. Ellie*

          Agreed – OP, is it feasible for you to handle the clients that are coming in, but absolutely nothing else? I can understand not being able to turn people away once they’ve arrived in your practice, but that sounds like more than a full time job in itself. You need to limit yourself to only the most critical of critical work (i.e. someone’s going to die or we’ll get sued if this doesn’t happen) and then spend the rest of your energy looking for another job so that you can escape this nightmare.

    2. Lacey*

      She’s not able to keep up with her bills as it is, so I think that would be pretty scary. But if she can follow Alison’s advice and establish some boundaries, hopefully she’ll have time to find a new job.

      1. TW1968*

        yep start working 8-5, taking your full lunch, and get a PT job for after hours. When work complains you can say I can’t afford to do all this other.

        1. works with realtors*

          I feel like taking on a PT job after hours will not be any different, workload and health wise, as the LW’s current situation.

          1. Zweisatz*

            Yeah, I’d let the PT job be 1) get some rest for like 2 weeks 2) job search. Because once the job search is successful, LW can be done without needing extra income from ANOTHER job. They will have new income.

    3. Not A Girl Boss*

      I’m feeling particularly bitter on this topic today.

      I told my boss back in May of last year that my workload was completely unsustainable, and he agreed but didn’t do much to change anything. Every one-on-one I tried to escalate that sense of urgency. In September, they finally posted a job for my assistant… on our internal website no one has ever applied through (spoiler In December, I basically had a mental breakdown, took a few days off work, and was transparent with my boss about why. I asked for a raise and was berated for it (Quote: “No one asked you to work all that Overtime” after months of being called in every single Saturday, as a salaried person).
      In January I laid out really, really clearly that doing two people’s jobs was literally killing me and that if I was forced to choose between working here and my actual life, I’d be quitting as soon as I could line up a new job. I cut back to exactly 40 (excruciatingly stressful) hours a week so that I could have time to interview.
      That cutback in hours came with a lot of long-winded emotionally manipulating emails and conversations about how they know I’m busy, but please be sure to do Important Things 1-10 because The Company Needs Me. These are the things that I used to come in on Saturday & Sunday to do but “no one asked me to”. In May I got a C on my performance review for ‘not getting enough important work done’ and ‘not saying no graciously enough’, and also got an infinitesimal raise?

      Last week, I gave my notice. Also, someone else in my department quit abruptly. The place is royally up a creek, and everyone is saying how sorry they feel for my boss, who will be stuck doing two peoples jobs. Since then I’ve had sit-downs with my boss, HR, my grand boss, and even the CEO asking what they can do to convince me to stay. They suddenly have not one, but three candidates in final stage interviews to replace me. They’ve asked if I’ll stay if they hire me 2 assistants. And I’ve been offered raises well above and beyond what I was belittled for asking for. I told them that what they could have done is show that they care about employees BEFORE our burnout negatively impacted the company.

      So, LW, my advice is – cut back to exactly 40 hours a week so you have time to interview and can appear reasonably unfrazzled while doing so. What are they going to do, fire you? hah! I know this is easier said than done, but I ultimately had to just let go of all of my insecure overachiever feelings of “wanting to do a good job” and “wanting people to like me” and “not being a slacker” etc, and just be OK with working exactly my hours and leaving. If I hadn’t made that choice, I’d probably be unemployed because I would have ended up in a mental hospital or with a heart attack.

      1. yirna*

        Are you me? I also cut down and got out after months of pleading for a change and ended up in meetings with my boss, my grand-boss, and my great-grand-boss, with promises of ‘promoting from within’ and ‘end stage candidates.’ Like great, but we’ve been telling you that we’ve been below minimum staffing for a year?

  2. CoffeeIsMyFriend*

    Set these boundaries and start looking for a new job. This place isn’t healthy and you can find something where your amazing work ethic will be appreciated and not taken advantage of

    1. SweetestCin*

      Full disclosure that this boundary may involve outright quitting, and I’m still agreeing with you in full.

      1. CoffeeIsMyFriend*

        Good point. I’m not sure how well Alison’s scripts will work in this situation

        1. 2Legit*

          Yeah, I can see the LW being put on a PIP or something for having a “bad attitude” if her org is anything like mine was

          1. Zweisatz*

            OTOH there is nobody there to do the work, so I believe they might try to put on the pressure, but they would severely shoot themselves in the foot if they actually let LW go.

  3. Amy Farrah Fowler*

    This advice is so important. You cannot care about the company more than management does. I like my job; it’s the best job I have ever had, but part of what makes that so is that I have support from management and when things become too much, we get support people to help out. That is the normal way to handle increasing workloads.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      You cannot care about the company more than management does.


      THIS. LW says, “…but if I don’t do all of this stuff, X bad thing will happen.” So be it. X will just have to happen. LW can’t imagine X happening, and so she is running around at an unsustainable level keeping X from happening. If LW cuts way back, and lets X happen, the world will not end.

      Or, alternatively, the people who are not struggling because LW is struggling will have to take on more of the struggle to keep X from happening. Also so be it.

      It won’t be ideal if X happens, and the business may struggle a bit, but LW does not own the business. LW is also already underpaid and struggling mentally, so having to find a new job is likely only going to find her in a better situation.

      1. This is Artemesia*

        Even with patient care issues, it is an emergency once or twice, but when it is the norm then ‘all hands on deck’ is not longer reasonable.

    2. rosyglasses*

      So true. I manage a large department and it is the healthiest thing I have done — putting boundaries around my health. I can’t care more than the owners do. I can do the best I can with the resources I’ve been given; and if they don’t give me direction or resources, I can only do so much – and instruct my downline supervisors in the same way.

  4. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    Assuming you’re in the US and not under contract, you are not the least bit stuck in this situation. You’re free as a bird to get up and walk out any time, and put these problems back where they belong – on the shoulders of the company and management. Find a new job and leave while the market is still favorable. The chances of a different job being worse than this are low.

    1. Nameless*

      This is one benefit of working in the U.S. that you can just leave without worrying about some contract or extended notice.

    2. COHikerGirl*

      Except it’s not that easy. You leave a job and you have zero income and probably zero health insurance. I was only able to just leave a job when I had a partner who agreed to being the sole breadwinner. His wages did not cover our basic living expenses, so we went into debt while I searched for a new job. I took on short term health insurance (better than nothing but it also meant a broken ankle did not get looked at right away…).

      Most people cannot just quit without serious repercussions in their personal lives. It took my husband and I months to dig out of debt. And we are the lucky ones.

    3. Other Alice*

      I’ve posted a similar comment a few days ago: I’m not sure where the misconception comes from, but an employee having a contact does not mean they are an indentured servant. They can still (and should!) cut back to 40 hrs/wk and start interviewing for other jobs. Sure, with a contract they might have to work their two weeks notice instead of walking out on the spot, but very few people have the luxury of quitting without anything lined up anyway.

  5. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    Can you take medical leave (preferably paid) somehow?
    I am assuming you are in the USA so much less worker protections than we have in Canada but don’t kill yourself for these clowns.

    Don’t make solving this your problem becasue it is not. You have to take care of yourself because they are willing to ruin your health for their convenience, they are not nice people even if they persuasively act like they are.

    Frankly if you can pull it off financially then quit and look for another job after you spend some time recovering.
    No idea if you can somehow parlay this into getting unemployment on medical grounds?

    1. Jora Malli*

      I know someone who did this in the US. They went to their doctor and explained what their work schedule was like and what physical symptoms they were experiencing because of it and were able to get FMLA for several weeks away from work to rest and recover. LW’s company might not pay for FMLA, so that’s a consideration, but I think it’s definitely worth looking into.

      1. Susannah*

        Companies don’t pay for FMLA – it’s unpaid leave. The question is whether the employer is big enough to fall under FMLA rules.

        1. blink14*

          It’s possible the employer has some paid leave benefits that could be used in conjunction with FMLA, my organization does that.

        2. Jora Malli*

          That’s not universally true.

          The Family and Medical Leave Act does not *require* employers to pay for leave time, but it also doesn’t *forbid* employers from paying for leave time. Some employers will require FMLA time to be unpaid, but others will either allow or require the employee to use PTO to cover their time out of office. It would be worth it for LW to check and see what their medical leave policies are.

        3. Esmeralda*

          No, it’s not unpaid leave. Every time I have taken FMLA, I have been able to use PTO (sick, vacation leave). That’s not required by FMLA, but the employer can allow it.

          FMLA is essentially job protection. It neither requires nor forbids being paid while the employee is on FMLA.

      2. J*

        I had a friend do this in a situation where her employer offered partially paid leave for a few weeks. I know OP might be not in a place to do this if its unpaid and/or because it sounds like they’re having trouble with some financial issues already. For my friend, it put her in a place at the end of her leave where she felt restored enough to commit to a job search and get into a new role. It isn’t the perfect solution but from what I saw with my friend, it did make a difference.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      What I like about this solution is that it gives the OP a break, but it will also force management to get involved to fix the staffing issues.

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        This is confusing? Having paid sick time would be medical leave, surely? Just a very short leave. And using short-term disability would be paid medical leave? (I’m aware that not all states have STD.)

        1. Starbuck*

          Right, if you have sick time banked you can apply that during FMLA time and still get paid. But if you don’t have anything banked, or only a few hours, then you won’t get paid unless you’ve got some other PTO saved because there’s no requirement that FMLA be paid.

          1. Sara -H*

            If you are in Massachusetts there is now a paid FMLA. Throwing it out there for any massholes who may not know :)

            1. Aitch Arr*

              Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Washington, D.C. have mandatory paid sick leave laws.

  6. Melanie Cavill*

    I remember one time, having a conversation with my co-worker when I believed we were the only two people left in the office. I was trying to explain to them that the way they distributed the work meant I no longer could get everything I needed to accomplished in a forty-hour work week. (They had no seniority over me, but their role was upriver of mine, if that makes sense.) Our area manager strolled in and said, “Melaaaaaanie, get it done,” and then started chuckling with co-worker and remarking, “who only works forty hours?” and badgering me about why I didn’t want OT. At that point, I was regularly working ten to twelve hour days plus weekends. Not my finest hour, for I ended up crying in the toilet.

    LW, establish those boundaries and get out as quick as you can. You cannot fix a broken office, especially if the work is getting done by you breaking yourself over it. If management didn’t care about that before, they’re not going to abruptly start caring about it now.

  7. Panda (she/her)*

    I had this same issue, but as a manager I was told that figuring out how to get everything done was my responsibility. (But of course I wasn’t allowed to hire more people, or turn down work).

    I ended up leaving for a 28% pay increase AND a lower workload.

    1. ferrina*

      Yup. That’s what I went through too. My boss told me that “if [I] can’t get the work done, that’s a reflection on [my] prioritization skills”. Never mind that I was already getting more done than anyone else on the team. Eventually I was able to take advantage of a political situation to get folks hired, but that place never stopped being a circus.

      As soon as I could, I left for a place with much better pay, a higher title, and an actual team to help. Oh, and a much, much better boss.

    2. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      Don’t you just love managers who say crap like this. It is the very definition of NOT MANAGING.

      1. Rain's Small Hands*

        It does point to it not always being YOUR manager. Your manager might be trying like anything to get help and their manager, or their manager’s manager, or the CEO might be the reason you don’t get help.

  8. mlem*

    If you’re salaried, make sure you prepare a script for when they try to pull the scam of, “no, you can’t stick to 8-hour days, you’re salaried, that means you have to get the job done NO MATTER WHAT”. That’s not actually true — a salary is for a reasonable workload with occasional flexibility IN BOTH DIRECTIONS, not for whatever they can pile on top of you until you snap — but bosses have cruised on that dodge for ages.

    1. Cringing 24/7*

      This! Be prepared for some potentially INTENSE push-back since they’ve become so accustomed to using your labor without boundaries.

    2. Cj*

      This. When her salary was set, it sounds like it was based on a 40-hour week. I’m a CPA who specializes in taxes, so I work overtime for 3 months, but it’s built into my salary, and you know I had a time that this is what is expected. I know there’s other jobs that regularly work 55 to 60 hours a week all year, but again it’s built into their salary. The OP’s overtime is not

    3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      I was wondering this too from the other direction–should the LW be paid OT for the extra hours?

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        YES. The way LW describes the job sounds very much like they are non-exempt. It doesn’t matter if they always pay her the same amount and call it a salary, because being eligible for OT is based on job description, not on how payroll is handled.

  9. danmei kid*

    “You keep telling them it’s unsustainable, but then you do the work anyway, so from their perspective, everything is getting handled and there’s nothing they need to change. It’s working fine for them!” EVERY OVERWORKED EMPLOYEE NEEDS TO UNDERSTAND THIS. Thank you Allison!

    1. KRM*

      I had a colleague like this, minus the “telling them it’s unsustainable” part. She didn’t want to push back on the CSO. But another colleague and I kept encouraging her to, because from their perspective it was all getting done on the timeline they preferred AND there were no complaints! We kept saying “they don’t know it’s stressing you!! Tell them!! They don’t want you to be overworked!!”.
      We eventually got more people (startup) but she never did end up pushing back, which made us a little sad.
      All this to say, OP, it seems that your situation is more of a “we’ve heard you’re stressed and overworked but we don’t care because it’s getting done.”. So the solution is, to not do it all, and be clear (preferably in writing) what you’re doing and why. Smack that ball back into their court and let them chase it around.

      1. Johanna Cabal*

        Colleague may have previously worked at a place where pushing back could have negative consequences. It can be very hard to leave those work experiences behind.

        1. KRM*

          True, but our other colleague and I pushed back all the time, so she had a good example that there would be no negative consequences. It’s just hard for some people to reset.

        2. Specks*

          Well, what are they going to do, fire her? She’s the only one working, they would be screwed if she left. She has a lot more power here than she realizes.

      2. My Useless 2 Cents*

        I have such a low bandwidth for this type of thing. What I really want to say “Push back or shut up, I’m tired of hearing you complain about it when you refuse to do anything to help yourself!” What I *really* say “That sucks.” Unfortunately the coworker who does this to me most often is my direct manager :( But at least she doesn’t just shovel the stuff down hill.

    2. ferrina*

      Yes, and unfortunately in some jobs that can impact clients who really need our services. But it won’t do those clients any good if you burn out and nothing changes. Management needs to change their tactics so the company can provide good services. And if they can’t do that, then at least you can go somewhere where you can provide good services (instead of being burnt out and doing mediocre or less)

      I work in a for-profit company with low stakes services (no one will be in danger if I mess up a project), and my management didn’t listen until it impacted their bottom line. I had to say no to a client. I was overworked, told i needed to take on another client, so I looked at my VP and said “Okay, which client would you like me to stop servicing then?” I explained that the only way I could have bandwidth for one more client was to not provide service (or be really late on providing service) with another client. When they saw the impact to clients (and how much money they could get from clients) suddenly there was money for another staffer.

    3. Aerin*

      I just had this conversation with a few colleagues. We’re in a specific support role (aside from our core duties) and there’s a limit to how many people we can assist at once before we start being stretched too thin. Our volume is really high right now and some people were tying to go beyond that limit in order to keep up. I straight-up told them they need to stop being heroes and ask for help (since there are indeed usually other people we can pull from core duties ad hoc). We’re only going to be able to get additional staffing if we can demonstrate a need for it, and even better if we can point to specific times where it would be useful.

  10. KP*

    I’ve tried to establish boundaries like this – in response they told me it was my fault that I couldn’t keep up with the workload and it was more evidence that I wasn’t ready to be promoted.


    I found a new role and I’m much happier. I hope the LW is able to do the same.

    1. PreggoAmoeba*

      I was in a job like this last year. I got another job that was actually a promotion and my old boss was shocked. As I told her when I gave notice, it was clear that I wasn’t able to perform at the level they wanted and be successful, which was impacting clients. So I am elsewhere doing the same job at a higher level and killing it. I have gotten two on the spot awards and have been given kudos by my grandboss for the work I’ve been doing since I hit the ground running. Previous boss lost 75% of her team within 6 months of being promoted to supervisor.

    2. ecnaseener*

      Yeah, I don’t think OP’s goal here can be to get promoted. Their manager’s expectations are unreasonable and that’s not going to change. The goal has to be to get enough breathing room back to have time for job-hunting.

    3. 2Legit*

      Same. I quit for a different organization. I communicated that I was drowning in the workload, and I received no help. Just more work.

  11. ABCYaBye*

    LW, you need to put the energy that you’ve invested into working those extra hours into defending the boundaries you set. Work the time you’re supposed to be working. Give management a clear and honest assessment of what you can reasonably do within the hours you’re regularly supposed to be in the office. Let them figure out the rest. And then defend the hell out of your boundaries.

    Incidentally, you may want to point out the paperwork issue and how far behind this situation has made getting that filled out. If funding is jeopardized, that may move them to act more quickly to find additional help. Also are there others above your management? If so, I’m guessing they’d want to know that there could be funding issues because you’re not being given enough time to do basic functions of your own job.

    1. ABCYaBye*

      Also they’re likely to say one of two things, or both:
      1. It is only temporary.
      2. You’ve been able to do everything so far.

      You need to be ready to defend yourself. They say it is temporary, but is it? When is your coworker returning? What’s the plan? They should be sharing all of this with you.

      You have been doing a lot, but far from everything. You’re having to shift and reprioritize responsibilities, and there should be no expectation that you are working an additional 2-3 hours per day. And again, see above regarding funding…

        1. ABCYaBye*

          The thing I was getting at is that they’ll push back with that type of statement, but if there’s no actual answer to what “temporary” means, management needs to do more to shed light on the situation and bring in help … especially if (because) they can’t actually answer what that means.

          1. 2Legit*

            Yes, temporary could mean 6 months from now, they’ll approve a new FTE…
            But by then, will there be someone who is on mat leave?
            Or someone who has been approved for a lateral move to a new dept?
            Or someone internally promoted within the dept to a higher position?
            So basically, by them waiting, you are guaranteed nothing…
            I’ve seen this happen – they say, “We’re looking for a new person(s)”… but by the time they’ve recruited new staff, existing staff are moving on, it’s a vicious cycle.
            And you, the person still there, is stuck with the mess. Good worker, you.

  12. CoffeeFail*

    Man, I want to give this LW a hug and a day off to drink tea and do nothing. I think this is the most important part of the advice … “which means that I will be able to do X, Y, and Z, but not A, B, and C.” Tell this is what you can and will do, they will have to find coverage for everything else or it won’t get done. Use the time you get back to find a new job.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        A whole day to do nothing and another to interview to get the hell out!
        As a European, I want to tell her to get a sick note, it’s so frustrating to read things like this where the OP is clearly in bad shape mentally because of her workload.

  13. Jamalama*

    OMG this letter could have been written by my good friend. This is what I hear from her day in and out, and Alison’s response is so spot on! It’s basically what I have been trying to tell them but I am not as eloquent. Now to decide if forwarding this to them would be seen as passive aggressive….

    1. Gabby*

      I don’t think so! You could frame it as “hey, this management advice website I really like posted an article today about a situation that reminded me of yours, and I wanted to share in case you’d find it helpful!” and then let her draw her own conclusions… (I will also often add in a self-deprecating joke about what a nerd I am for reading management advice blogs, to try to make it come off as even less judgey/passive-aggressive…)

  14. I'm A Little Teapot*

    “You lack of planning does not constitute an emergency for me.”

    Same idea here.

  15. anti social socialite*

    Been there, bought that crummy t-shirt. Eventually I got sick of it and moved on. Don’t sacrifice your mental health for a job that doesn’t care about you.

  16. 3lla*

    Having been in this position, LW, I’d like you to know that these moments in life when you need to have a new job ready when you leave your current position, but don’t have time to give a job search its proper investment, are the time to call staffing agencies in your specialty. Let a recruiter do the work to get you into an OK job (instead of this awful one) and search for perfect from there.

    1. Jzilbeck*

      This same situation described by LW happened to my spouse. Except management was extra cowardly and threw them on a PIP instead of providing any kind of help to remedy the situation (which unfortunately didn’t end well). Definitely start planning an exit strategy, because this won’t improve without a change in management (spouse learned this the hard way).

  17. Aphrodite*

    OP, what if today you collapsed at work due to exhaustion and had to be hospitalized for a week, then put on bed rest for two weeks after that?

    What would happen?

    1. The Person from the Resume*

      Yes! I understand how hard (impossibly hard) it would be to walk out of the clinic with patients waiting for an appointment. But you may need to.

      Give them a warning not to schedule you for patients after 3 (at least) if you arrive at 7am because that’s 8 hours and you still need to do paperwork before you leave. And then if they still schedule you, you have to say “no, manager knows I’m unavailable to see patients after 3. You have to speak with him about it.”

      I know that’s so hard, but if you don’t enforce boundaries yourself, they’ll keep trampling over them because they’re bad managers.

      1. TechWorker*

        If there is literally no-one else who can take the appts, you need to start cancelling patients now. Warn your boss that’s what you’re planning to give them a chance to do something else, but if you were super sick or quit tomorrow, appts would all be cancelled. A subset moving back may have to happen.

      2. Person from the Resume*

        Also I do very much wonder if the LW is actually the only one seeing patients or if the LW is the only one seeing patients plus doing the paperwork/lead role of another person.

        It’s possible there is backup for patient care that would step in when the LW calls in sick, but the LW is actually being asked to her normal patient care role plus a lot of additional work for the lead for the shared role who’s been out for the past two months (or quit 2 months ago) and she’s taking it all because she feels responsible for it.

  18. Peace Weaver*

    Advising the LW to just up and quit won’t work because (A) if the LW were the type to be willing to do that, they’d have done so long ago because this abusive employment situation has been going on for months, (B) the LW needs the income and (C) the LW will need a decent reference from their (abusive) employer, which they WON’T get if they leave today. LW works in a health-care setting, and is conscientious enough not to want the clinic’s patients to be left in the lurch, which, realistically, could well happen if LW simply quits before any arrangements are made to cover their work.

    LW’s abusive employers know this, are betting on this untenable situation to simply continue and are profiting from it themselves: why hire another one, two or even three more employees if they can get all the work they need out of one (LW) who’s willing to work 11 hour days? Alison’s answer is by far the best: LW needs to set workable hours and tasks and refuse to do any more than that. And, LW – if this goes against your grain (and it will!), please remember that you will NOT be doing the clinic’s patients any favor if you continue to be stretched so thin that you are unable to complete all the work being piled on you!

      1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

        Nearly everyone has been in this reality at least once. Sure, you can TRY all the logical reasonableness, but in most cases if they haven’t fixed it–they won’t. As long at OP keeps doing the work (and it’s getting done somehow) the owners of the clinic won’t care. They’re saving money by making OP do more. It’s a no-win situation for the pressed employee.

        Sometimes you really DO have to just walk. I’m not saying they have to do so immediately, but you can prepare: save money, line up references and referrals, polish your resume and job hunt on weekends, setup interviews early in the morning, etc., to make your escape. Is that also work. Yes–hard to do when you’re tired and demoralized. But it’s do or die. It depends if you wanna continue to be a doormat or not. Sometimes you have to set a reasonable time frame and leave places like this.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I think it very much depends on the industry. Healthcare workers need to have empathy for patients in need of treatment, teachers need to have empathy for their students in need of education, but if you’re selling mobile phones, you can quit, and the worst that can happen is that the company will make less money. The customers will simply buy their phones elsewhere.

      2. Troutwaxer*

        The problem – and I’ve seen this – with allowing the employer to walk all over you is that eventually you can’t take it. When that happens you’ll do something negative, like rage-quit or come so utterly unglued that going into work just won’t be possible one day, then you won’t have anything resembling a reference…

      3. Zweisatz*

        in addition to what the others said it’s also about having the energy to job search. if you are completely burned out, searching while dealing with overwhelming toxic job isn’t realistic.

        in this case LW unfortunately doesn’t have the choice financially, but it means they need to claw back the time to rest and job search in a different way.

    1. Wilbur*

      It really depends on her previous work experience. If she has good previous references, it’s a lot easier to set up firm boundaries because she won’t be reliant on this employers reference. The bright side is, if she’s fired she can get unemployment.

      There’s no upside to this job, if the employer is willing to have her work 11 hour days and tell her it’s fine then I doubt there’s going to be any worthwhile compensation. Best case scenario is she only ends up working two jobs and gets a minimal raise.

      1. SweetestCin*

        Especially when LW says she’s not even compensated well enough to cover car maintenance and repair (I’m making this deduction from her note about not being compensated well enough to do much more than function and her car being on its last leg).

      2. another Hero*

        ideally LW will have a colleague or someone from this job she can use as a reference instead of a manager, but no, she’s going to risk a bad reference in retaliation for quitting at all once she manages to do so. preserving the reference is an unreasonable goal, and I hope LW can acknowledge that and be slightly less stressed about setting boundaries because of it.

    2. Storm in a teacup*

      I totally agree with you. A lot of people commenting don’t appreciate that actually they’re probably pushing themselves so much because they care about their patients and have a duty of care to them.
      OP it’s hard but you need to prioritise your patients and cut back on any other work and as Alison says, make it your manager’s problem. See patients, fill in their notes / referrals. But things like monthly audits etc can wait. Also re: scheduling – as a minimum work out what is reasonable for you to manage during the day and ask for no more to be scheduled. If you are in an emergency walk in setting do you have an alternative place patients can be referred if you are too busy? Can management hire in some locums to cover?
      Can you quit and work as a Locum / temp worker for a while whilst you find a new role?

  19. cubone*

    I was this letter writer (not like, for real but I could’ve been) and so were all my coworkers. People were always saying “I do 2 peoples job”, “I’m doing 4 jobs”, “I’m shirking MY job responsibilities because I’m being assigned so many things that aren’t my job”, etc.

    All the managers said the same things they did here: help is on the way! We’ll figure it out! Once we [hire/get a new grant/start our new strat plan/figure out new KPIs/reorganize the department], it’s all going to calm down. We see how much work you’re doing and I promise, it’s going to pay off (wink wink). Don’t worry, you’ll be promoted after all this is over.

    It’s never over. They don’t care and the things they say are to make the problem going away – the problem being YOU, the person complaining about it, not the untenable workload. They don’t care that you’re overworked and they have no plans to fix anything. If they wanted to fix it, it’d be fixed.

    It’s a hamster wheel that will keep spinning and the only way to make it stop is to get off.

    1. 3lla*

      I once saw a company just begin to realize an employee who’d been complaining of overwork for three years might be serious when she notified them that she was pregnant and intended to take her full 12 weeks of maternity leave. And even then it took them months to hire a second person. Help is probably not on the way.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      When they say these things (“once we get the new grant” etc) in their mind it’s like the “shut up” button you have on your smoke alarm when it goes off due to dodgy cooking and you silence it for 10 minutes but then when that timer runs down the situation is still there…

      1. cubone*

        Exactly. It took me years to understand bad managers don’t see the problem as too much work, not enough people etc. they see the problem as YOU complaining about it. And if they say something that makes you stop complaining (and/or just do the work anyways), the issues been resolved. As Alison said – the work is getting done so what do they care.

  20. toolittletoolate*

    Absolutely do this, but don’t be surprised if you get a tremendous amount of pushback–guilting, being reprimanded, maybe even getting yelled at. It’s not OK for them to do any of these things, but they might. The point is not to let their behavior cause you to lose your resolve and go back to the terrible situation you’ve been in for the past two months.

    I saw a similar situation play out –friend had put her foot down, and made it clear she was not staying past 5 for any future appointments beginning X date. Office manager scheduled a client anyway, who showed up for a appointment (scheduled by OM) just as my friend was locking the door. She told them that she was not aware of who was supposed to see them or be covering the office at that time and she…just left. I was so proud of her.

    The stuff hit the fan the next day, but my friend held her boundary and reminded OM that she had been very clear that she was leaving at 5, period. The OM got very upset, told her she had basically been derelict in her responsibilities by not staying and seeing the client. My friend replied that the OM was the one who had put the client in a bad situation by scheduling them without making sure there was coverage.

    It was awkward and very uncomfortable for a while–but it didn’t happen again.

    1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      +100% Yes, shit might (and probably WILL) hit the fan, but if they were gonna fire you, they were gonna anyway. Good for your friend to keep her backbone.

    2. Generic Name*

      This is a great story! It’s evidence that the company relied on your friend to not stick to her boundaries and come to the rescue. I assume she wasn’t fired, even if it was uncomfy for a while?

  21. Ellis Bell*

    OP, what would they do if you called in sick? Or your car was broken down and you couldn’t get there? Whatever it is they’d do, they can do that while you go home at a reasonable hour.

  22. Falling Diphthong*

    You’re not stuck! You’ve just let your company make you believe that you’re stuck.

    OP, right now you care more than management about the effect on their business of your dropping any balls. You need to be willing to let those balls fall, and pass the pain up the chain. Because right now, piling everything on you appears to be working out great for them and they have no incentive to be Not Terrible.

    Cut back to 40 hours/week and start job searching.

    1. Jora Malli*

      Nora Roberts has an analogy for this. The trick for juggling too many balls is to know which of them are glass and which are plastic. If you drop a glass ball it will shatter, but plastic balls will bounce and you can pick them back up later. Right now, the LW and their managers are acting like all the balls are glass, but they’re not. Some of them are plastic and it’s okay if LW lets the plastic ones drop and leaves them for someone to pick up later.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        I like this analogy too, and I think OP is treating some balls like glass because they ordinarily would be. For example “not doing work that affects the future funding of the organisation” is usually a glass ball. However if your organisation is sending you “Eh we don’t care how the sausage gets made, you’ll figure it out, we will only care enough to intervene when you make us suffer”, then affecting the funding is no longer a disaster, but the exact thing the management is waiting for before they will bother to manage.

      2. Calyx*

        With the position she’s in, some of the balls she lets fall may be glass. It could affect customers who are relying on the business for important things. It’ll take real strength of will to let those drop, but it’s the only way things will get better. “Pass the pain up the chain.” Love it!

  23. She of Many Hats*

    When you are a dedicated employee and tend to be a pleaser, setting those boundaries feels wrong but you need to do it. Start doing so and I would also put your communications about those boundaries like Allison described in her sample scripts into emails so you have documentation (and frequently their absent-minded confirmation) of do-able tasks and duties.

    And start that job search.

  24. irene adler*

    Yes- good advice. Be as transparent as you can with communicating what can and cannot be completed in your 8 hour day.
    And be ready for push-back: “But you did all this work before! You can keep doing it!”

    I had a strict 8 hour day to perform retesting of positive samples (blood bag screening). Only, as time went on, the volume of work ballooned. So when I threw up the flag saying the workload was too much, my manager insisted I had a time management problem (“no one else ever had an issue getting the work done in the allotted time. YOU must be the problem!”). She assigned someone to coach me to improve my time management with the testing.

    Well, at the end of a very busy week, manager asked ‘coach’ for a report. Coach said that she couldn’t find any issues whatsoever with my work- especially with time management. In fact, coach explained, I was doing 4 times the number of retest samples she ever had to do. It was too much to expect me to complete the workload assigned.

    Turns out, the data manager was shirking her job. She gave me any and all retesting that was in any way ‘off’ instead of requiring the techs to repeat any aberrant test results. It was easier to give it all to me.

    1. A Girl Named Fred*

      I feel like this is my situation right now, and I empathize HARD with you and OP. Everyone outside my company who I explain my job to is absolutely gobsmacked by what’s expected of me, but my manager and leadership don’t think it’s unreasonable because other people are getting it done so it must be me. I’m sure SOME of it is me, but the part where I have twice as many responsibilities on my plate as I’m supposed to sure doesn’t help!!

      Sorry, didn’t mean to rant there. Just wanted to let the OP know they aren’t alone and to do their best to push back. Taking action to get out is the only thing keeping me together these days, and I still break down at least once a week. It’s so tough and I’m so sorry for all of us in these situations.

  25. Dasein9*

    Wait. You’re working yourself into illness to keep the organization funded well enough to pay 4 people to do the job you’re doing by yourself? And you’re not even getting paid well enough to maintain your vehicle?


    Management’s failure to staff the organization is not your problem. Being low in the hierarchy has a lot of drawbacks, but at the very least, you should be able to let those higher up in the system shoulder the burden of funding and staffing.

    Alison’s advice is spot-on, and I’d suggest taking a couple days’ sick leave right away before you even try to implement the scripts.

  26. Taking the long way round*

    I’d love an update on this. Setting boundaries is tough for so many people Alison have such great advice!

  27. Parenthesis Dude*

    Your situation is pretty terrible.

    At some point, you need to take Allison’s advice. But, you’re probably going to get a lot of push back from your bosses when you do cut back. You very well may be fired. I’d probably start with cutting back on paperwork. Then I’d cut back on anything that isn’t directly seeing a patient. But I don’t think that will help much.

    You probably need to reach out to your network of friends, and see what help is available and try to get out of this dumpster fire asap.

    1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      Sometimes getting “fired” from jobs like this is a blessing. You will typically get unemployment and can job hunt more diligently and with more time for interviews.

      Is the OP getting paid overtime for all these extra hours? If they are, they should be saving every penny of that in case they do have to quit.

      1. Parenthesis Dude*

        The OP mentioned that they’re not doing well financially. If they can’t afford to fix their car, which is on its last legs, then saving pennies probably isn’t on the table.

        Oh, the OP can get unemployment. What does that max out at again? $400 per week? That doesn’t end well.

    2. Susannah*

      The good thing about a 3.5% unemployment rate is that she probably won’t be fired, because they would not have anyone at all to do the work. So yes, look for new work – not everyone can just up and quit. But they are acting like it’s 2008 and anyone will do any job for any amount ion money and any abuse. Nope.

    3. Anonymity*

      Problem is if she is something like a nurse that paperwork protects you. It has to be done. If she’s a non licensed employee such as a medical receptionist, get out now. If she’s licensed, you can’t just up and leave because your hours are up. I’ve a medical license and I’m constantly drowning. I would never advise anyone now to go into acute care medicine.

    4. Budgie Buddy*

      I was going to post something to the effect that firing is unlikely because the company will be im deep doo-doo if they lose OP. But some people will gleefully shoot themselves in the foot rather than admit they were wrong.

      Even if OP gets fired, it may be a blessing in disguise. There are other companies put there that will value her.

      There’s also a non-zero chance that if OP courteously and neutrally sticks to “This is the work I can do for you; take it or leave it” the company may suddenly get much more accommodating because they sense the pesto holding this whole ship together is nesting g her limit.

  28. Smithy*

    Because the only real advice is to leave a job like that – I just want to give my advice for how to leave jobs like that if you can’t quit without a new job lined up, particularly when you’re so overworked.

    I think very often advice to “get a new job” can hit as depressing because, that can be additional “work” at a time when every minute you’re not at work you’re recovering and doing life errands/chores. Thinking about updating a resume, writing cover letters, finding jobs and applying – that can sound exhausting and defeating.

    If someone telling you to “just plan for 30-60 minutes a night of job applications” sounds overwhelming, you’re not alone or ridiculous. With that in mind, I heartily recommend taking PTO – be it vacation or sick days – to plan for initially a four day weekend and then a follow up three day weekend if possible. Do not expect to use the entire weekend for job hunting, but rather to still allow yourself time for home chores/errands as well as time to do job hunting tasks. Spread across the whole time or clustered on one day – whatever works best. I call it a “job search vacation” because that initial 4 day weekend should afford one day to recharge, a normal weekend, and one day to work on job admin.

    1. Generic Name*

      I’m guessing the OP never takes vacation or sick time, either because the company is too stingy to offer either or because they feel like there’s no point because they’ll just come back to an even bigger pile of work. OP, I know you feel stuck, and if your goal is for everyone to be happy with you at all times, then yes, you are stuck. It’s time to get comfortable with feeling unpleasant emotions (such as guilt you’ve let someone down). Start small. Say “no” to something small and see what happens. Is there pushback? If so, did you get through somebody being momentarily displeased?

    2. Ellis Bell*

      This is a very good idea. One other thing I used to do, which isn’t possible at all workplaces, is that I would job hunt at work. Obviously you have to do a risk assessment there in terms of the likelihood of getting into trouble, but it had two upsides: one is that staying later was unavoidable for me because their pressure was “check in with us before you leave” so they could give you extra work to prevent you leaving. I would not check in with the boss, nor would I leave, but simply move on to job hunting at my desk when it was past normal knocking off time, which was not discernable to them and even if it was – it was past normal office hours. This led them to seeing that my productivity dived the longer I was kept at my desk, which was not a bad conclusion honestly.

  29. usually anon*

    Who will take on this overload when LW is out on extended medical leave from exhaustion?

    1. Anonymity*

      It seems like this could be health care. The answer is any other warm body that comes in. Sadly. That’s the way it is now. Until the new person is exhausted and moves on.

  30. Perpetual Job Seeker*

    I was there very recently. I tried to fix it but it was apparent to me that once it was decided that I would just keep doing all the work there was no incentive for them to get me help. Flash forward to now, I found a job at a 70% increase that is much less hectic. Turns out I was both underpaid and extremely overworked, and they replaced my role with three people. I only wish I had left sooner.

  31. RC+Rascal*

    OP needs to try calling in sick for a few days and let them experience life without her. Best way to do this is after the boundary setting conversation with the boss.

    I saw something like this happen at my old company to a very overworked IT manager who had some special skills. He got called to jury duty and placed on the jury for a class action lawsuit–ended up being out of the office for several months. His absence jeopardized a number of projects and forced the organization to address his work and importance differently.

    1. anti social socialite*

      That might work…or it might not. I had a job where we were stupidly understaffed for YEARS despite us telling the Office Manager we needed more help. I got the flu and was out for a week. Thankfully my immediate supervisor was understanding but then when I got back, I was working twice as hard to get everything back to rights.

      Job hunting is never easy, especially when you’re already overworked and overwhelmed but having an exit strategy is in LW’s best interests.

  32. AnonInCanada*

    Overworked, underpaid, unappreciated… so why are you still at this job? I know you’re being contentious thinking the patients at this clinic will suffer if you walked out on them, but it’s this company’s manglement that’s making you, and by extension your clients, suffer.

    The only thing that matters right now is your well-being. This company doesn’t think that matters. So this company shouldn’t matter to you. You’ll be much happier and financially secured finding a new job at a company who appreciates the work you do. Please leave this mess and find that happiness. You’ll be glad you did.

  33. Effective Immediately*

    I want to raise that ‘just quit’ or ‘just don’t’ is about eleventy-billion percent more difficult in a clinic setting like OP is describing.

    We’re facing situations just like this in abortion care currently, where the need is SO far outpacing staffing (and thus, ability to meet the demand) that providers–and managers–are holding on for dear life while they try desperately to get staff through the door (and trained) in a nightmare double-whammy of endemic healthcare worker burnout thanks to COVID plus the fall of Roe.

    I’m not saying every clinic or healthcare specialty is in these kinds of dire straits, but it’s possible that management is working their hardest to remedy this but struggling under competing forces and difficult odds themselves.

    Because at the end of the day, the question is: do we turn patients away (which in many safety-net clinics will have very real consequences for those patients, up to and including death) or do we keep working these untenable hours to prevent as much of that as we can?

    This is not to say that any one individual, provider or entity is personally responsible for the well-being of the entire populace, but setting boundaries in these circumstances–where you have to look desperate people in horrible situations in the face and say, ‘sorry, I can’t help you’–looks very different than in an office job.

    1. TechWorker*

      That said, if OP works themselves into the ground to the point where they’re too sick to work, even less care will be able to be given. I get that it’s really difficult to justify that, but as you say one person can’t fix the problem and if you don’t help yourself first, you won’t be able to help anybody :(

      1. Robin Ellacott*

        Seconded. I’m not in the US, but people working and advocating in this field under such circumstances are inspiring.

    2. Esmeralda*

      Yes, but you know, this is the latest and most acute version of a constant problem in healthcare and human services. (Also activism, non profits…)

      OP (or anyone working in these settings) is not Jesus Christ. They are called to work ethically and conscientiously. They are not called to sacrifice themselves utterly. It is *hard* to decide that you cannot save everyone. It is *hard* to decide that you have to save yourself.

      The cost (to patients, clients, students, etc) when an employee decides to save themself is not caused by the employee. It’s caused by the employer. It’s caused by terrible laws and the legislators that write and pass them. It’s caused by an awful, inhuman system.

      If you worked 24 hours a day under these conditions, you would still not save everyone, still not meet the needs of everyone who needs them. Better to stop short of much-too-much and be able to continue, than to do so much that you can’t do anything (mental, physical slowdown/breakdown).

      And in the OP’s case, it’s the employer’s decision to schedule more clients and expand hours for appointments. They are quite literally at fault. Not the OP. If the OP goes home at a reasonable hour and clients don’t get seen, THAT’S THE EMPLOYER’S FAULT.

      It’s *hard* to decide to set boundaries. But it has to be done.

      Put on your oxygen mask first, OP.

      1. Rain's Small Hands*

        And a callout to teachers. Who have been doing more and more with less and less and then Covid and the CRT nonsense and ………

        1. Properlike*

          This. This all day long.

          I don’t even let friends or family invoke the “saintly calling” metaphor. I like my job, I’m incredibly qualified and skilled, so I should get paid (and work) accordingly.

      2. Effective Immediately*

        I’m not sure where the ire and all-caps is stemming from, because nowhere did I say or suggest it was ok for OP to continue working in this untenable situation. I’m simply offering that it makes it much more difficult to ‘just not’ do things, because the knowledge of the impact weighs heavily.

        I totally agree about putting your own oxygen mask first, I’m just not as willing to vilify management (nor gloss over the emotional burden of making those choices) as readily as some commenters here.

    3. Beth*

      I hear this–healthcare definitely has aspects that make this harder than it would be in a typical office job. It sounds like that’s how OP has gotten sucked so far into this.

      But at some point, saying “sorry, I can’t do this” stops being a choice and starts being an unavoidable reality. OP’s health is suffering. Their finances are unstable. They’re months behind on paperwork (which is important in healthcare, and specifically important to their org’s funding; it going undone for so long tells me that they’re so crunched with appointments that they’re unable to do key job tasks, and even then, when there’s a clear business risk, their supervisors won’t offer support). They’re clearly working their absolute hardest, in a wildly unsustainable way, and it’s reaching the point of crashing down around them.

      In circumstances like this, the options are to quit (consequence: care won’t happen at all), work until you collapse (bad for your health, and care still won’t happen post collapse, which sounds like it might be happening soon), or try and pull back and work in a sustainable way (some care won’t happen, but some will). It’s not right that OP is being put in the position of choosing between these options, but that’s what their manager is forcing them to do.

    4. Ellis Bell*

      This is very true and it is not hard to admire people who do this work. However I think your points only highlight the responsible nature of saying enough is enough. OP needs to say it for the patients as much as for themselves. It needs to be said: “I am not a robot, nor can I pretend I am one. So what is the plan for when I burn out, and can we do that before I burn out so I can continue to contribute”, because either OP lets a few balls drop today, or all of them will drop tomorrow. I say this because I was in OP’s position, got myself an irreversible health condition that’s mine forever now, and got absolutely no thanks for the sacrifice. Oh and the organisation I was trying so hard to save? It went under anyway and was only resurrected when people were honest about what they could contribute.

  34. Gary Patterson's Cat*

    It is very hard to interview when you’re in a job like this working from 7am until 6 or 7 pm. The only thing I’d suggest to to apply for jobs on weekends, and then call out sick if you do get a good interview (or come in late) and schedule those for early in the morning.

    I would also suggest concentrating more on the job you were hired to do. Let all the other jobs become second or third priority. There is some danger in this, but owners never seem to realize you’re covering other jobs, they only see you’re not doing your own.

  35. Hapax Legomenon*

    You are overworked in a job-seeker’s market. If you have any network, can you call around to them? You may not need to do most of the job-hunting work if you know someone whose workplace has a dire need for you–and getting out would be ideal. Then you can go into your new workplace practicing having these boundaries, which is much easier than trying to set them when you’ve been trampled so badly. Alison’s advice is spot-on if you have to stay, but I hope for your sake you can get out.

  36. Anonymity*

    Good advice but if this is health care, easier said than done. Health care is its own beast. If you are licensed with the state you generally cannot just leave when your “hours” are up if in the middle of patient care. I hope the LW got a new job and moved on. Somewhere with better staffing.

  37. Dawn*

    “How do I escape this situation?”

    By escaping, I’m afraid. And I know that’s easier said than done but this is a market where working in healthcare is extremely transferable.

    Which also means that you hold all the power here. While not impossible, it is pretty darned unlikely that if you even imply that you might not be able to continue working for the clinic at all at this pace, they’re not going to back down. Healthcare settings can’t afford to push staff out right now.

    But I really wondered, reading through your letter a few times, if the problem isn’t actually that you’re not assertive/not advocating for yourself! Usually there is SOME indication of “my boss made me do this” but… your letter reads more as if you just decided that you have to do all this work.

    You don’t. Nobody has to do drive themselves into the ground, whatever the justification.

    So apart from the above, give yourself a little grace and realize that you’re not going to be helping ANYONE if or when, heaven forbid, you drive yourself right into serious health issues that force you to stop.

  38. AngelS.*

    I was expecting commentary on the word ‘borrow’. Please never, ever use it for a person.

    1. heyeyeye*

      wrong letter, and it’s a benign enough word anyways. I ask to borrow my sister’s BF for a minute because he’s tall and can reach high shelves, I ask to borrow one of my colleagues so she can look at some data I’m sure I’ve misread. it’s an innocent phrase.

    2. Dawn*

      This is VERY common language in many places. I could not possibly count the number of times in my life I have said to a manager, “Hey, can I borrow you for a moment?” Usually in the context of needing to interrupt them when they’re with someone else.

    3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Also, refer to free market workforce activity / career-job improvement as “poaching”. AAM has stopped using that term.

  39. Ursula*

    I like to think of it as “strategic failure”. With really stubborn management, you might have to go as far as to just not do things they’ve told you to – in the example given, don’t come into work until 9, even if that means leaving patients waiting at a closed door, and close at 5, even if it means kicking patients out of the waiting room. Tell everyone you were overbooked and give them management’s phone number to complain.

    You have to make them feel the pain. Sometimes you have to REALLY make them feel the pain. But definitely escalate slowly, to give them a chance to fix things.

    1. Talullah*

      I was coming here to say exactly tjis! This situation is exactly what the “strategic failure” was invented for. It’s difficult to think about ignoring patients, so… What are the things that management wants/needs done, but won’t cause you (even more) stress?

  40. Pony Puff*

    I highly recommend connecting with a recruiter or a staffing agency if that’s possible in your field. They can do a lot of the legwork for you for finding positions and preparing you for interviews. If you’re overworked and short on time this can certainly help as long as you’re available to check your phone and email here and these.

  41. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

    My former psychiatrist is my former psychiatrist because, as the pandemic went on, she was scheduled for a full day of seeing patients, plus doing all sorts of administrative work that other staff used to do. She decided that she had to drop one clinic or the other, and she went with the other one.

    LW, of course you don’t want to abandon patients. That may mean letting everything else–all the paperwork–fall by the wayside. Your management will probably care about risks to their future funding, even if they don’t care about you. It would be entirely reasonable and ethical to use Alison’s scripts, where the X you can do is patient care, and the Y and Z are everything else. I think it would also be reasonable to tell them that of course you aren’t going to abandon current patients, but you are overwhelmed, so you can’t take on any new patients. But I don’t work in health care, so I may be off base on the “no new patients” part.

    1. Generic Name*

      Yeah, I got a letter from my son’s psych. office saying his provider left and they couldn’t handle the patient load. It was non-ideal for us, but ended up being fine.

  42. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    A few years ago, a poster complained about “unprofessional response” – by an employee who was grossly overworked. He had asked for help — and was refused.

    Then one day he just up and left – and said “goodbye”. The responses in here were “oh the humanity? HOW DARE HE DO THAT?”. Then the “happy follow up” = the firm hired TWO people to replace him. And the rest of his work was divvied up among three (or four? I forget) employees. That was the “happy ending”.

    I said = lemme get this straight – he complained he was overworked, asked for assistance (someone to help him) and was rebuffed – and when he quit, HE was the “bad guy”??? And they had to replace him with 2+ people?|

    The responses in here changed.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        The closest post I could find was “I’m burned out and overworked and my bosses keep piling more work on me” from January 13, 2020. But some of the details aren’t the same: in the update there was no mention of the OP being replaced by 2 people, and the responses from commenters were (from my quick skim) very positive towards the OP for leaving the job.

        The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2 may be referring to a situation that was posted in a Friday open thread.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        No – it was years ago – but I could relate to it. The OP was complaining that the guy was “unprofessional” when he got up and left. He was overworked, and told everyone that. They had to replace him with two full-timers AND divvy his work out to others.

        And probably saved his sanity, and perhaps his life, when he did.

        Sometimes management loves their situation BUT they don’t realize that their organization can fall apart when a principal worker walks away. I’m a Boston sports fan, and yes, “no employee is irreplaceable. We said that in a chant in management training.” Yup.

        And what happened to the Celtics when Bill Russell retired in 1969? Or when Larry Bird left? Or the Patriots when Tom Brady decided he was going elsewhere?

        So you might manage to fill a vacancy with another body, but your company performance will likely NOT be what it was.

  43. Chilipepper Attitude*

    OP, my heart goes out to you! You feel trapped and like there is no way to shift things enough for you to get yourself out.

    And it can be so difficult to set boundaries. I’m an internet stranger out here rooting for you!

    My spouse likes to look at the worst case if you do set the boundary and that eases my mind a lot. I don’t know what that looks like for you but I imagine it could look like you set a boundary, they push back and/or ignore you, you stick to your boundary and then … the sh*t hits the fan. Maybe they get better or maybe you get fired. I’m guessing that you would still get unemployment and that might be the shift you need to get yourself another job!

    I’m wishing you the rest and boundaries you need!

  44. MistOrMister*

    My dept has been told no OT. This is not a constraint for the whole office. Just my department because a boss has decided we don’t need it. We have also been given extra work on top of what was previously considered a full load before the no OT rule. But by golly, we better be able to figure out how to do it all in our set hours. On top of that, we have coverage needs when people are out. Now when they try to schedule me to cover, I say ok and that I assume OT is approved. If they say no I tell them, well I can’t take on more work when I am already behind unless you are going to allow me OT, so what do you want to do? So far it’s resulted in me not being scheduled to cover. Like Alison said…this isn’t my company. Obviously this isn’t exactly the same as OP’s situation. But what it comes down to is, we are allowed to set reasonable boundaries and we have a duty to ourselves to do so. When it comes down to it, most of us don’t reap the rewards when the businesses we work for do well so why do we so often feel the need to prioritize the business over our own well being?

  45. FG*

    “It doesn’t make sense for you to be more committed to the company’s functioning than your management is, and if they were as committed as you, they would be acting on all the alarms you’ve been sending up. ”

    For us contentious folks, this is a hard lesson to learn, but it’s crucial. Not only are they not feeling any consequences, they’re not even throwing money at you to make you shut up. Be prepared for them to do that, *and don’t bite.* Giving you more money without also providing you with a Time Turner isn’t a solution.

    Get out however you can.

    1. Rain's Small Hands*

      Early in my career I was ill with a full plate and my boss said to go home. I said I had all this stuff that needed to get done today. She said “if it was that important, we’d pay you more and have coverage for when you are out. Obviously, the company doesn’t think its that important, go home.” And since that point in time, I remember “if what I was doing was that important, they’d pay me more and I’d have all the resources I need.”

  46. merida*

    I’m wishing you all the best, OP! In addition to all that Alison said, if you need another piece of evidence for your manager, I’d suggest taking a few minutes to write out all the extra responsibilities and tasks that you’ve taken on and roughly estimate how many hours a week they would normally take someone to do (and not just how long it takes you to do in a rushed and overworked panic, but how long it’d take to do the task carefully and well under normal/healthy circumstances). Compare that number of work hours the number of hours you used to work prior to two months ago, and you will have a no-nonsense rough estimate that your workload increased by X percent. This may help with managers who are “show me the data” kind of people and who won’t listen to employee’s other valid ways of expressing a cry for help.

    It gets better, OP, I promise! I did this at my previous job and discovered my workload had, over the course of a few weeks, increased by an estimated 40%, with no raise or promotion and no increase in hours (I was hourly and not allowed to work paid overtime, though I *was* encouraged to work extra unpaid hours under the table). My manager had long berated me that I “couldn’t handle a little extra work,” so it was incredibly validating to see that I was suddenly doing 140% of what I used to do – and I’d been overcapacity before the increase, too – so no wonder I was so burnt out and overwhelmed! I showed her the math that led to the 40%. Her response? “Well, 40% is not that much. It’s not like your workload doubled or tripled or anything.” That was the last of many unsuccessful conversations about my workload, because I started job searching that evening. I am now several months into a new job with reasonable expectations and a normal manager. :)

    1. merida*

      P.S. I can’t even express how wonderful/foreign it feels to have management who actually… likes me and expresses gratitude when I am able to go above and beyond at work (rather than express contempt and name calling because I can’t push myself even further). You deserve better, OP!!

  47. LB*

    OP, what if you arranged to sell someone your microwave, and they decided you had actually sold them your house? This is what your job is doing. You agreed to sell them one person’s worth of work. They’re trying to take way more, but for the same pay.

  48. Beth*

    Honestly, LW, the way out of this is to quit. Your supervisors know you’re drowning under an obviously unsustainable workload and are fine with sacrificing you to that. It’s not like they have no other options. They could be hiring someone else; they could be stepping in to cover some of the workload themselves; they could be cutting back on appointments while they’re understaffed. They’ve actively chosen to put you in this situation, and that shows that you really, really don’t want to keep working for them long term.

    If you have enough savings to go a few months without income, I would honestly say to put in your notice, spend 2 weeks recuperating, and then start a job hunt without the burden of working for them alongside it. If you don’t (which, most of us don’t!), then you need to drop whatever needs to get dropped in order for you to have bandwith for job hunting while you’re working here. I hear you that the clinic will stop functioning if you do that–that’s unavoidable and not your fault. Either it’ll be a wake-up call to your supervisor that they actually need to find another solution now, or the clinic will go under. Which one is your supervisor’s call to make, not yours. You can’t be more invested in the clinic’s success than the people who actually have the power to make it successful.

    1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      LW is really, really broke. They said “I’m not being paid enough to even function (my car is literally on its last leg)”.

  49. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    I empathize, LW. I was very overworked in a PT position for a long time, and kept begging my managers for more hours. They either ignored me or kept saying no, but didn’t reduce my work or offer any help/solutions, so I focused all my spare energy and time on job hunting and finally got an offer. The day I gave my notice was cathartic, in part because I knew I was leaving, but also in large part because I knew they would completely flounder without me, and they had no backup plan. Get out when you aren’t valued or appreciated. You won’t regret it.

  50. GlitterIsEverything*

    This person clearly works in medicine which adds some extra burdens into the mix.

    This isn’t something where someone can just say, “I’m sorry, I’ve hit my 8 hours for today, I have to leave,” and walk out the door without someone else dealing with the patients who are still in waiting rooms or whose appointments are still scheduled later that day.

    The solution requires more planning than making changes next week. LW could say that she is no longer able to do A, B, and C, and that she can only maintain the current patient schedule until a specific date. After that, she will need to decrease her patient load to X number of patients AND have her last appointment at Y time every day.

    When thinking about how many patients can be seen in a day, consider the documentation attached to each patient. So it’s not just a matter of “I can see patients for this many hours a day,” it’s “Each patient takes me Q amount of face to face time, and R amount of documentation time, so I can see this many people.”

    When LW’s manager asks how they should handle the patients she can’t see, she can say, “you could hire someone else to see them, or you can see them yourself, or you can call them to reschedule them for a later date. I won’t have time to make those phone calls to reschedule patients unless I decrease my patient load by an additional T number.”

    If management refuses, take a sick day. Spend the day resting, not thinking about work, refuse to answer phone calls or texts, don’t even open your email. And go back with a determination to only do what you are capable of without running yourself into the ground.

  51. MAC*

    I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this, LW. And while it doesn’t help in the short term, kudos to you for recognizing the effect it’s having on you. I left a marginally similar situation in January for somewhere with MUCH better culture/balance, and didn’t realize until recently how bad the exhaustion and burnout had been at Previous Job. It took getting adequate rest and not doing the job of 2 FTEs to understand how fried I actually was. In fact, I’ve felt *guilty* at New Job that I’m not doing enough – simply because we are adequately staffed and I don’t have to constantly catch all the balls being dropped. I hope you can set some boundaries now and move on to something else soon.

  52. Elbe*

    I feel so bad for the LW! There’s a certain type of employer who leverages the sympathetic/vulnerable people they serve as a way to manipulate their employees into doing more for less, and it sounds like that may be a part of what is going on here. Maybe the company is intentionally terrible, maybe they’re genuinely underfunded and over-extended. Either way, it’s not a problem the LW can or should solve by sacrificing their own health.

    It’s uncomfortable to be in a position where your (very reasonable) boundaries are constantly being pushed and have to be defended. Even if the LW can get their hours back to normal, they should still look for another job. A company that is willing to run employees into the ground is probably under paying them, too.

  53. Luna*

    Run. Burn bridges, salt the earth, whatever, the end goal is to get out of that job and into one that doesn’t… behave like this. Expecting you to do four people’s jobs, if not more, and management being as useful as the poop sticking to a goldfish.

  54. JHC*

    A former colleague of mine summed up Alison’s advice in three pithy words: “Let things break.”

  55. GarnetGirl*

    I’ve been seen.

    The boundaries are what’s so hard because at the end of the day the work has to still get done and it’s either do it now, yeah in long work hours, or scramble at the last minute when the bosses hand it back to you to get done anyway because nobody else did it, you weren’t expecting it back, and you have a pile of other work to get done at the same time. Then the stress is awful.

  56. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    OP, my colleague was a total doormat, she would never push back, always took on the extra work even if she had to stay late.
    Then she got pregnant, after trying for about six years and resorting to fertility treatment. With twins. She did tell the boss that the doctor had mentioned having her start her maternity leave very early, because they did not want to risk her losing the babies.
    He started a hiring process, but was dragging his feet. After all his wife (and owner of the company) had worked right up to the day before their babies were born, and he even took work to her while she was at the maternity “she bounces back very quickly”.
    The doctor put my colleague on permanent bed rest as from her fifth month. She did come in after her appointment and spent the rest of the day farming out the work on her plate to freelancers, and then wrote up notes for the replacement hire. The boss screamed at her down the phone when she announced it to him, and she just said “yes, but I have to think of the twins”. That was it. She just needed a reason to push back, her own comfort didn’t count, but the little beings growing inside her were more important than that.

  57. Petty Betty*

    This gave me flashbacks. And not in a good way. This is why I left non-profit work. I’ll volunteer no problem, but I won’t *work* non-profit again. Especially when it comes to mental/behavioral/healthcare in general. Always overworked, always underpaid, always given lip-service about how “someone” will be hired soon (if funding comes through, maybe you’ll see more than one someone!) and in the meantime it’s more clients and absolutely no time for your very necessary paperwork but hey, maybe the PTB can borrow an admin assistant who’s also drowning in the work of 5 people (or more) to help you “real quick”. No OT, so do be quick about it. And don’t forget the clients.
    As the harried admin assistant, let me tell you – it won’t get better. I left that sector all together and life got a lot better in general.

  58. Nina_Bee*

    This is exactly why the ‘quiet quitting’ movement is happening! Companies keep piling work on the employees and not hire additional workers, saving themselves money.

  59. Darkangel*

    I feel you. I am now on maternity leave, but my job made me burned out…while pregnant! Who asks a pregnant lady to do the job of 3 people? I was doing the job of 2 people for 6 months, replacing someone who had already burned out (should have seen the red flag…), and they increased my workload again. I said nope…I am out and asked the obgyn put me on leave. Like you I was not able to say no, I was not able to let the balls drop, I was not able to set boundaries. They were waiting for things to shatter to act…well they had to replace me without me being there to train my replacement…

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