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Ask boss for help in prioritizing responsibilities, job tasks

Ask boss for help in prioritizing responsibilities, job tasks

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Q: When my previous employer went out of business, I was relieved to find a very similar position with another company. However, I no longer feel quite so lucky. Over the past six months, my duties have gradually increased to the point where I could easily work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and still not get everything done.

My boss understands the problem and has asked for permission to hire another person, but top management won’t approve his request. I’m always swamped with work, so I feel exhausted and depressed most of the time. What should I do about this?

A: Because workload issues can seem so overwhelming, they tend to make employees feel helpless and hopeless. In reality, there are only three possible solutions to these problems: increase staff, reduce responsibilities or streamline work processes. Since the first option appears to be off the table, you will need to explore the other two.

Fortunately, you don’t have to face this challenge alone, because your manager is responsible for helping you determine which tasks are more or less important. Assistance with prioritizing is actually one of the benefits of having a boss. However, you will need to invest some time in preparation for this discussion.

Start by summarizing your responsibilities and tasks, then create sensible guidelines for designating their priority level. For example, activities that directly impact customers would automatically receive a high ranking, as would any project important to upper management. Those with little impact on critical objectives would be rated lower.

When you meet with your boss, present your concerns as a problem-solving opportunity, not a complaint. Instead of griping about long hours or impossible goals, request his help in evaluating priorities, then review your rankings to see if he agrees. Once the two of you have settled on a priority list, the next step is to identify tasks which can be reduced, simplified or eliminated.

Since your manager seems sympathetic, you might also try to agree on a reasonable length for your workday. To remain sane in this pressure cooker, you will need to establish a clear boundary between your personal life and your job.

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Q: I am extremely worried about losing my health care coverage. My wife was recently diagnosed with a serious medical condition which will eventually require an organ transplant, followed by long-term medical care.

Because our industry is prone to erratic business cycles, layoffs are always a possibility. If I were to lose my job, I have no idea how we would manage without health insurance. Even if I found a position with another company, a new policy might not cover my wife’s pre-existing condition.

I’m trying to decide whether to tell my manager about my wife’s medical issues. In the event of a layoff, I would like him to know that I’m willing to take a significant pay cut in order to remain employed and keep my insurance. Do you think I should talk to him?

A: I am truly sorry to hear that you and your wife are facing such a difficult diagnosis. My hope is that your company will be sympathetic and supportive, but unfortunately that’s not always the case. Before sharing these concerns with your boss, you should try to anticipate management’s likely reaction.

The corporate response to family problems depends largely on the values of top management. Compassionate executives who feel loyal to employees would never want to deprive someone of badly needed health care coverage. If that describes your company, then informing your boss might be a good idea.

But if management views employees as just another expense, your disclosure could have exactly the opposite effect. You might actually be placed in the layoff group to avoid an increase in health care costs or the need to grant you an extended leave. Of course, no one would ever say this was the reason.

One indisputable fact, however, is that you must protect yourself by becoming intimately acquainted with both the details of your insurance plan and your rights under the Family & Medical Leave Act. You might also consider consulting an attorney who specializes in workplace issues.

If the new health care law remains in place, people who are currently held hostage by their health insurance will eventually begin to have more options. That’s because denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions is prohibited beginning in 2014.

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Q: Three years ago, I was hired to set up and run a new hospital pharmacy. Everything was going fine until an external audit turned up some problems, and I was blamed for everything. I had hoped to have a career here, but now I’m not so sure.

Recently, management hired another pharmacist who seems to be after my job. She frequently accuses me of not keeping up with my work. It’s true that I don’t put in as many hours as I used to, but that’s only because I need to spend more time at home with my new baby.

Although I previously had a good relationship with my boss, now he and his manager say that I complain too much. Is my career doomed or is there a way to fix this?

A: Your career may not be dead, but it’s certainly on life support. In addition to expressing concerns about both your competence and your attitude, management also appears to have hired a potential replacement. So you need to take action quickly.

The key to salvaging this situation is to stop complaining and start implementing a recovery plan. To begin repairing your relationship with management, you must first acknowledge past difficulties, then present a proposal for getting back on track.

For example: “I realize that lately I have not been doing my best work, but from now on, my goal is to make this a model pharmacy. I have outlined specific steps to correct the audit issues and bring everything up to date. As I implement this plan, I would like for us to meet regularly to assess my progress.”

If you can live up to these promises, you may be able to resurrect your reputation. But should you find that the demands of this job conflict with the demands of parenthood, then you may need to start searching for a more child-friendly position.

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Q: One of my employees recently sent an email to my boss complaining about me. I responded with an email to both of them in which I invited the employee to discuss her concerns. I have not heard back from either the employee or my boss. Should I send another email or just forget about it?

A: You must be either a very new manager or one of those people who views email as a permanent replacement for speech. Despite its many virtues, electronic communication is hardly the most effective way to interact with a disgruntled staff member. Instead, you need to walk down the hall or pick up the phone and find out what’s bothering this employee, then let your boss know what you plan to do about it.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.” Send in questions and get free coaching tips at, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.

Q: I supervise three technicians in a busy medical clinic. These employees recently complained to management that I belittle them, show them no respect, and occasionally cause them to leave work in tears. I was told that they greatly admire my clinical skills, but find me to be intimidating.

My boss has said that I must resolve this communication issue so the technicians will feel comfortable bringing me their problems. I need to know how to interact with these employees in a way that does not seem threatening. By the way, none of them has ever given me this feedback directly.

A: At the risk of stating the obvious, employees who feel threatened by their boss are unlikely to provide any face-to-face criticism. Going to your manager felt like a much safer way to express their concerns.

I assume that you have no desire to terrorize the technicians, so you must lack a fundamental understanding of what it means to be a leader. In your current role, relationship skills are just as important for success as technical skills. Leadership is all about motivating people to do their best, but demeaning comments will only motivate them to leave.

To begin building bridges with your employees, meet with each one individually, explain your desire to become a better supervisor, and ask how you can be more helpful and supportive. These discussions should provide a road map for self-improvement, but if the changes seem too difficult, ask your boss to arrange for some appropriate coaching or training.

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Q: Our new general manager is driving the whole staff crazy. She has a bad temper and appears to be incapable of giving us clear directions. She will tell us to do something a certain way, then completely forget what she said and start yelling at us for doing exactly as we were told. She is also very heavy and dresses unprofessionally.

We recently heard that her daughter moved out of the house because of her mother’s behavior, so apparently her family can’t stand her either. A couple of people mentioned this problem to the owner, but so far he hasn’t done anything. What do you suggest?

A: Since your volatile boss is unlikely to respond well to constructive criticism, going over her head may be your only choice. If the owner has ignored previous feedback, perhaps it’s time for the entire staff to meet with him as a group. Just be sure to keep the focus on business-related issues when expressing your concerns. Discussing your manager’s weight or family problems will only make you sound petty and reduce your credibility.

Q: My manager hardly ever communicates with me. During the six months that I’ve been in this job, “Debra” has never met with me individually. If I send her a meeting request, she ignores it. In fact, she ignores most of my emails. When I try calling on the phone, Debra always says she’s busy and will get back to me, but she never does. Dropping by her office is difficult because we’re located in different buildings.

Debra expects me to email her a weekly report, and she occasionally replies with questions about my activities. But she never seems interested in my long-term projects or career goals. This worries me, because she is responsible for recommending raises and promotions. How can Debra accurately evaluate my performance if she doesn’t talk to me?

A: Some misguided managers view employee communication as a distraction instead of recognizing that it is actually a core function of their job. Unfortunately, your unapproachable boss falls into this category.

Because Debra is clearly not a “people person,” she is more likely to respond to immediate work-related concerns. A general request for a meeting won’t seem particularly important unless she knows the agenda. If you specify the topics you wish to discuss and their relationship to current objectives, you may have more luck getting her attention.

As a relatively new arrival, you might also benefit from comparing notes with your colleagues, especially those who seem to work well with your boss. Ask if they can suggest any useful strategies for “managing up,” but be careful not to complain about Debra’s leadership style.

For example: “Debra always seems to be extremely busy, so I’ve found it difficult to schedule meetings with her. Since the two of you appear to have a good relationship, I wondered if you could give me some insight about how she prefers to communicate with the staff.”

But if nothing seems to work, then you may simply need to accept that your boss has reclusive tendencies and modify your behavior accordingly. Otherwise, she will eventually begin to find you annoying.


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