You might have to manage a demanding boss


Q. I am paid a salary and my boss dumps more work on me than I can get done during regular work hours. I put in time at night or on weekends to meet her irrational deadlines. How do I fix this?

A. This brings back memories. Way back when I was young and thin I spent many Sundays at work because my boss saw every task as quick and simple, even though she couldn't actually do the work herself. I had a cubicle with a wonderful view of San Francisco Bay and a great view of sailboats gliding by covered with obnoxiously happy people. It was a cruel sight.

Why does your boss do this to you? To fix this problem you need to identify the cause. Maybe your boss doesn't know how to do the work and is unable to make a good time estimate, or she procrastinates and expects her employees to pull her out of the mess she created. Does she jump from task to task, but get very little done?

To put this in a more positive light, she may have no idea how much work is on your plate and assumes you can handle a few more things. Better yet, she may think you do far better work than your co-workers so you get all the unexpected tasks that come along.

Now let's take a look at you and your job. Do you need more or less time than your co-workers to complete assigned tasks? Is your boss adding on to your workload and expecting you to do more each month? Are you interrupted so much during the day that you can't get much done? Or do you socialize so much during the day that you don't get much done?

You need to take a hard-nosed look at the situation, be objective about how you might be contributing to this problem and then move forward to fix it.

The first step has to be talking to your boss. Give her the benefit of the doubt; she may not realize you are feeling dumped on. Ask if she is concerned about your performance and your need to work long hours to get your work done. If you can talk honestly with each other and agree on a solution, that may be all it takes.

Learn how to manage your boss. Even if your boss is well-intentioned she may need some help managing assignments. You need to be pre-emptive. Many years ago my boss Chris would spend Friday afternoons organizing his desk and work for the coming week. Then he would call me in and hand me a stack of files and a long list of everything he wanted me to do before the following Monday or Tuesday.

It ruined my weekends until I became pre-emptive.

I set up an appointment with him for Thursday mornings, sorted through his desk-mess with him and I got enough of a head start on things that I had my weekends back. Unfortunately this made Chris think I was in need of work.

Chris began giving me work that he had previously marked as low priority. He had no idea how many work requests I had from other people or how much time was involved in the work he was handing me. He didn't seem to hear me when I pushed back so I hung a large whiteboard in my office, listed everything I was working on plus the due dates and the time involved to get the work completed.

The whiteboard made Chris stop and think before handing me another task. When he did I would ask him to rank it in priority with my other work. We began to talk through my workload and deadlines at least once a week. I had tamed the beast that was my boss and it felt very good.

What if your boss doesn't give a hoot? This is the worst possible case and there aren't any good options. There are people who enjoy power and making others miserable. There are managers who may want an employee to quit so they can avoid firing that person. This is called "constructive discharge" and it is difficult to prove. But if the employee can prove it, at the least she could receive unemployment.

I really believe in the whiteboard (or clipboard or printout) listing your workload -- and the more public, the better. The key is to find the cause of the work dump and figure out how to talk constructively about workload with your boss. The whiteboard tactic has worked well for me when I have had a demanding, conniving, pompous or even a dim-witted boss.

I hope you are able to regain control of your life.

Virginia Detweiler is a human resources consultant and has taught business and management at Walla Walla Community College and Walla Walla University. Questions for her columns are welcome and can be submitted to her email address at Those used will be edited to remove information that would identify the sender. She also can be reached at 509-529-1910.


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