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The best ways to manage a demanding boss

by Jenny Darmody
12th Dec 2019

demanding boss


Does your manager expect too much? Jenny Darmody suggests some tactical ways to approach a demanding boss

If you have a demanding boss that doesn’t value work-life balance, it can lead to over-the-top expectations, impossible workloads and unreachable deadlines. Not only does this make employees suffer on a personal level, but it can also hurt employee engagement, quality of work and profitability.

Think about it: If you’re overstretched on five major tasks with extremely high expectations, you’re much more likely to drop the ball on at least one if not multiple jobs. But what are you supposed to do when your boss’s expectations are too high?

Is it really your boss or is it you?

When we start to feel overwhelmed at work, it can quickly feel like our boss is piling on the work and maybe that is the case. However, before we get into the tips and advice that, yes, will involve talking to your boss about their expectations, let’s do a self-assessment, shall we?

I’m a big believer in self-reflection and analysing data, so it’s a good idea to take a week or two weeks’ worth of tasks and think about which parts specifically are making you feel overwhelmed. Are you putting the demands on yourself a bit? Are you overstretching yourself too much? If not, and it is all on the workload that your boss has put on you, read on.

Why it’s hard to talk to your boss

Again, before we help you talk to your boss about the fact that they expect too much, let’s talk about why that’s easier said than done so you know that we’re on your side. You’re probably worried about what they might think of you if you admit that you’re feeling overwhelmed. You’re likely concerned that by admitting you’re not able to complete all of your tasks, you’re admitting that you’re not up to the job to the one person that could replace you. And finally, you’re nervous about criticising your boss’s management skills by telling them that their expectations are too high.

These are all completely normal feelings and it’s understandable that you’d rather just say nothing but here’s the reality: If your boss’s expectations really are too high, you’re either going to fail to meet them and make them think you’re not up to the job anyway, or you’ll run yourself into the ground trying to meet those expectations, become completely burnt out and mentally exhausted and possibly quit before they have the chance to even talk to you about all this. It might seem daunting but talking to your boss and managing their expectations is the best possible course of action. So, let’s talk about how you do that.

Do your homework first

Before you book that meeting, take a look at your workload. If you did the little self-assessment that I asked you to do, you’ll have already a written list of what’s expected of you. Now, the next step will be easier for some tasks than others but try to figure out how long each of your tasks take to see exactly how over-stretched you are.

Do you know which tasks are the biggest priorities? Which tasks are taking up most of your time? Can they be broken down further to see if there are particular elements of that task that are slowing you down? Is it that the expected goals themselves are too high? The best way to start a conversation about feeling overstretched is by doing your homework and being able to clearly explain to your boss what part of your work is having the biggest impact.

Honesty is the best policy

Yes, this is the part you’ve most likely been dreading but it needs to be done. Schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss your role, your tasks and their expectations. Having done your own assessment, you should be able to explain calmly why you feel you have too much on your plate and why their expectations are too high. After all, if you’ve worked out that you need to do 12-hour days in order to successfully complete all of your work, then something is amiss there and your boss has to see that.

Make sure you’re also able to explain why certain tasks take as long as they do. Your manager might respond by saying you should spend less time on a particular task, and they might be able to provide some help in terms of how you can shorten the time it takes. However, they might just not realise the reality of how long a particular job actually takes, in which case you need to be prepared to answer that.

Present solutions, not just problems

One of the biggest worries you probably have is about coming across moany and negative about your job. The best way to avoid that is by making sure you come to the meeting with solutions and suggestions, not just problems.

This means not simply going in saying, “I feel overwhelmed, I have too much work,” or even “I have too much on my plate”. It means being specific about where the biggest headaches are, where you believe the priorities should be, and where you may need some assistance. It might even just be about explaining that because A and B are major priorities, C and D are going to have to take a backseat for a few weeks. Or, it might be that A is taking up 80% of your time and if you could get someone to help you and speed up the process, it would free up more of your time to do B, C and D.

Offer help with other things instead

This might seem counterproductive when you’re telling your boss their expectations are too high or that your workload is too heavy, but it will actually help your case. If you have concerns about coming across incapable in your job, part of your solution proposal could be helping with some other less time-consuming tasks, especially if your boss is agreeing to take some of the workload off your hands.

The key here is to not alleviate your workload only to overstretch yourself again the very next day. It’s about knowing what you can take on and showing that you’re a team player. At the end of the day, you know that you’re not shirking your responsibilities and, in all likelihood, your boss knows it too. But offering to pitch in when you have the capacity can alleviate the concerns you have from admitting that your workload was too heavy. Offering to help can be good for you as well as your colleagues.

Seek support elsewhere

If your boss is perhaps not as supportive or understanding as you were hoping for, it’s time to seek support elsewhere. Whether that is in the HR department or a friendly colleague, it’s important that you talk to someone about it.

If you have a strong case for the fact that you are overworked or your boss’s expectations are too high but they didn’t listen to you, it’s worth having a sounding board so that you feel listened to and believed. When a disagreement is just between you and your manager, you can feel very isolated about it, so it’s vital to talk to a third party. This may need to escalate to a more senior manager or, if you haven’t gone there yet, the HR department. We spend a lot of our time at work so we need to feel happy and secure when we’re there.

Jenny Darmody is the growth editor at, Ireland’s most trusted recruitment partner. Jenny is also a former journalist, specialising in all things career-related and work-life balance.

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