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Crucial Application

Crucial Applications: How to Negotiate Workload Limits

We recently completed a study which reveals the most difficult issue for women in the workplace to discuss and successfully resolve is negotiating limits on their workload—it’s also one of the main issues that cause 1 in 5 women to leave their job.

We partnered with the top women’s business website, Little PINK Book, on this study which also found that women struggle most to hold high-stakes discussions with other women rather than with men. What happens when a crucial conversation goes awry? Nearly half admitted a failed high-stakes discussion caused their productivity and/or engagement to drop, and 1 in 5 women said they’ve had a crucial conversation go so poorly they left their job.

Here are six tips from Crucial Conversations for navigating the most difficult issue at work, negotiating workload limits:

  • Earn the right. Asking for fairness in work limits is easier when you have a reputation as a hard worker. Before raising concerns, evaluate if you are truly doing more than your share.
  • Clarify intent. Don’t start the conversation with complaints—start by establishing mutual purpose with your boss. Begin with, “I have a concern about my workload, but I want to be clear that I care about helping our team succeed. I don’t want to request changes that will make your life harder or put our goals at risk.”
  • Focus on facts. Don’t start with broad conclusions or generalizations that put others on the defensive. Build the case for the point you want to make by sharing objective facts. For example, “I’ve observed that those who do their work get rewarded with more work.”
  • Clarify boundaries. Be clear about any hard and fast limits you have on your workload. If, for example, you have family commitments or personal time values you won’t compromise, lay those out clearly and stick with them.
  • Propose solutions. Don’t just come with complaints—come with recommendations for how to make this work for your boss. If you just dump the problem on your boss, he or she may help you solve it, but you’ll strain the relationship.
  • Invite dialogue. Finally, invite your boss to share his or her viewpoint. People are willing to listen to even challenging views as long as they believe you are also open to theirs.

5 thoughts on “Crucial Applications: How to Negotiate Workload Limits”

  1. This is a comment on the “Crucial Applications
    How to Negotiate Workload Limits” section of your newsletter.
    Another way to identify which of your duties is to tie your duties to already-established business goals and identify exactly how much time and when those duties need to be performed. When a project is added to your workload, show the boss your scheduled activities, which goals those activities meet, and ask for help prioritizing which goals can be set aside for the new project.

  2. @Paige Great suggestion! Linking your tasks to your company goals is a great way to prioritize your duties, and a great way to prove to your boss that you need to set aside time to work on those projects.

  3. You should also look at your workload and identify the tasks that can either be delegated to someone else, or have minimal value in terms of the company goals. Those activities should be eliminated and something more useful substituted.

  4. Interesting timing on this article for me. I did some digging around this week and discovered that my workload is a whopping 70% higher than any of my co-workers. It’s not just my imagination, I actually went out and pulled the numbers. My closest co-worker has just 320 accounts to manage while I have over 980, plus I have some additional reporting and project assignments that the rest of the group does not. And three of my co-workers have less than 200 accounts. I don’t even know how to address an inequity like that, it’s just so blatant.

    I’d like to think it is a compliment to me that they have confidence in my abilities, but honesty, I think it’s a matter of convenience. I manage to get all the work done every month and don’t complain too much about it, so why fix what ain’t broke, in their eyes. I have brought it up once or twice, but I get excuses that the numbers don’t actually measure the work loads accurately. Maybe not, but the picture I’m seeing certainly doesn’t look fair to me.

  5. “For example, ‘I’ve observed that those who do their work get rewarded with more work.'”
    is that an example of an objective fact or something to put someone on the defensive? i can easily imagine a boss getting irate when they’re accused of “rewarding” hard work with more work. it’s may or may not even be something they’re conscious of…

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