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How to talk to your boss when you are feeling stressed

It's very important not to ignore the signs of stress or delay in taking action. Here are some tips to help you.

Stress is a huge issue at work so it’s important to know that you are not alone. Just because you are stressed doesn’t mean you are incapable of doing your job. In fact research shows it is often highly engaged employees who are at the highest risk of stress or burnout. In the current pandemic work stress has increased and women appear to be disproportionately impacted as identified in a recent report “Burnout Britain,” by Nic Murray. Women are more likely to be working longer hours and experiencing additional burdens and stressors outside of work, especially those with children or elderly relatives to care for. 

If you are struggling with work related stress whether it’s working from home or in the workplace it is essential to advocate for yourself and ask for help. Nothing will change unless you take action and the first step is to talk to your boss. Understandably talking to your boss about stress may feel like a very difficult conversation to have. Even if you have a good relationship it can feel very intimidating so here are some tips that will help you to get the support you need and deserve.

Don’t suffer in silence – take action

The effects of workplace stress build slowly over time and often you don’t realise it until you get to a crisis point where you feel overwhelmed. The natural tendency is to think, “I am not good enough, not working hard enough,” or “I should be able to manage this.” Feeling like this can cause you to suffer in silence so it is important to be self-aware and not ignore the signs. If you delay taking action overwhelm can leave you feeling isolated and unsupported and can lead to burnout.

Identify what is causing you stress

There may be many reasons for feeling overwhelmed at work but it is important to be honest and clarify exactly what is causing you stress. Identifying what challenges you are dealing with will enable you to start a conversation with your boss more effectively. Is your workload too great? Are you over committing because you are ambitious or want to impress? If you feel like you are constantly having to prove yourself it will leave you exhausted, both mentally and physically and your overall wellbeing will be negatively impacted.

Why it is a good idea to talk

Your boss won’t necessarily be aware of what’s happening with your workload or what is affecting your work. Delaying the conversation with your boss will only cause you more stress. Bosses want their employees to perform at their peak so if something is holding you back they will want to know. Being honest about how you feel will be the best option for both of you. After all when you feel good your work you will be more productive and effective.

Confide in someone you trust

Before you talk to your boss it’s a good idea to speak to someone you can trust, preferably outside work, who will listen and be able to help you to work through what to say or offer suggestions. After meeting with your boss tell your confidant what happened and what actions you are going to take. They may be able to support you with your plan of action.

Prepare what you are going to say

Arrange a one to one meeting when your boss will have time to talk with you and you won’t be interrupted. Perhaps a meeting outside the workplace over a cup of coffee may be more appropriate. Make a few notes beforehand so you can be assertive and communicate clearly and calmly about the aspects of your job that are causing you stress and what you think might help to deal with the problem. There is no need to share too much personal information. Your boss does not need to know the exact symptoms to respond to your needs.

Demonstrate your value

When you advocate for yourself you are demonstrating self-care and self-worth. Make it clear that you are committed to the company and it’s goals. Frame the conversation so that you focus on how best you fulfil your role and perform at your best. Describe how the affects of stress directly impact on your productivity and what changes need to be made.

Offer solutions

It helps to be honest, positive and solution focused when talking to your boss. If you can suggest possible ways to help resolve the issue your boss is more likely to work with you. Think about what would be the best solution for you. It may be asking for support to complete a project, request flexible working or extra resources to manage your workload. Rather than immediately dismissing any of your boss’s suggestions be flexible and ask if you can continue the conversation at a later date to feedback on what is working or to find a suitable alternative. At the end of your conversation reiterate your plan of action and agree on a follow up meeting to see how things are going.

Follow up and continue the support you deserve

Take a little time to put your actions into practice. Even if your actions are working well it is imperative that you continue the conversation with your boss and meet again to update on your progress. If you find the actions you agreed upon are not improving the situation, don’t give up. Continue the conversation on a regular basis and decide together how you can improve on previous actions. 

What to do if your boss is unsympathetic

There are always going to be some bosses who are not willing to listen or to compromise. It is uncomfortable to discover that your boss doesn’t see health and wellbeing as important and maybe views it as a weakness or an excuse. If this is the case you will have to make decisions for yourself. If you can’t see any way to address or change the situation then you may feel it’s the right time to consider other job options where you can find greater job satisfaction and balance for your health and wellbeing.

Fortunately in these challenging and uncertain times most bosses are more aware and understand that stress and burnout is a growing problem at work and are willing to support you. They may have even experienced a period of stress or burnout themselves and will appreciate your situation.

If you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed don’t delay. Take that first step and ask for help. Finding a coach or someone you trust who will be supportive can help you through this challenging time. It will start you on the path to becoming more self-aware, resilient and taking action to make positive changes that will enable you to enjoy your work and have greater ease and flow in all aspects of your life. 





Kate Darbyshire Evans

Kate Darbyshire Evans

Helping women entrepreneurs and designers in the fashion industry who struggle with overwhelm and anxiety to thrive

I help women entrepreneurs and designers who struggle with overwhelm and anxiety to rethink their response to stress and learn how to accept, embrace and utilise it to become more resilient, happier and more successful. Stress is inevitable but by changing your attitude to stress you can transform your challenges and difficulties into opportunities and possibilities. Utilising stress can be liberating and empowering by choosing to see stress as your friend, rather than seeing it as your enemy. By building your resilience you will be able to remain flexible in your responses to your thoughts, behaviours and emotions when under stress. Learning how to transform stress and make it work for you is exciting and liberating. As a result you will feel more empowered, confident and resilient and be able to: • rethink and change your attitude to stress • know what it means to be good at stress • embrace challenges with confidence and positivity • persist in the face of setbacks • use anxiety to help you rise to your challenges • see effort as the way to mastery and achievement • turn nerves into excitement • how to turn a threat into a challenge • turn adversity into a resource • turn self focus into bigger than self goals As an experienced coach, with over 20 years in the fashion industry at director level, I love helping and supporting women to explore and understand the real underlying causes of their stress that undermines their resilience. My aim is to bring clarity, motivation and purpose by helping them challenge their attitude to stress and move from a fixed mindset towards a growth mindset. To learn the skills to respond to their thoughts, feelings and behaviours in a positive, powerful and sustainable way. This enables them to strengthen their resilience and increase their self-esteem so they can more confidently deal with the challenges that life throws their way. Running a business, whether or not you employ people or not is often isolating and very challenging at times. You can easily become overwhelmed by the workload, constant change and the responsibility it involves. Stress and burnout can creep up on you. I understand what burnout is like that having personally experienced severe stress in my twenties. I have also experienced some major challenges and changes in my life, including redundancy, severe injury and divorce so I appreciate and value the importance and benefits of developing resilience and self-care. Women want to manage their lives better, both practically and emotionally and achieve their goals and aspirations. As an owner and manager of people it is important that you create an environment where you, your people and the business can flourish and thrive. This requires focusing on becoming resilient by developing a growth mindset and accepting and embracing stress rather than trying to avoid or reduce it. In addition to I speak on how to rethink and transform attitudes to stress to empower women and build their resilience. I also write articles on the subject.