My column, Workplace Referee, is designed to help employees and managers gain better insight into each other's point of view (POV). Have a situation you'd like me to address? Please submit it by email here. Don't worry, I'll keep your identity private.

My Boss Expects Too Much, Too Fast

Employee POV: I took this job six months ago. The company is a hot start-up in my city. They've added 50+ employees since I joined. I'm working for one of the original founders. He's the COO. He's a nice guy, but way too demanding. Almost daily, he'll throw a bunch of new projects at me at random times of the day and tell me we need to get on them ASAP. Everything is done with a sense of urgency. There's never any lead time on projects. It's just, "here it is - now, get it done fast." I come to work everyday feeling frazzled and mentally overwhelmed. He recently told me I'm doing a good job, but it doesn't feel like it. I'm thinking of quitting and finding a slower-paced employer.

Manager POV: My new employee is doing a good job keeping up with our high-growth stage. I know it's hard to be working on so many projects simultaneously, but that's what it's like right now. Once we get through this fast-paced stage, things will level out. However, for the foreseeable future, he needs to keep up the pace. I've noticed he's been dragging a bit more lately, and even forgotten to do a few assignments. I gave him some encouraging words, but I can't change the pace. I hope he can stick with it. I don't want to have to find someone else who can keep up.

Who's at fault?

In my experience, there are two types of demanding bosses. The ones that push you to become better by testing your skills and limits. And, the ones that don't seem to have a clear gameplan, and end up creating more work for you. This boss seems to be both. Managers at start-ups regularly find themselves switching gears - and needing their team to switch with them. They also need people to wear many hats, a/k/a become excellent multi-taskers. At the same time, a manager must be cognizant of how much work is being put on an employee. They have to know when too much is too much. It sounds like this manager doesn't think what is being asked of the employee is unreasonable. I'd say the bigger problem is they aren't talking about ways to help each other through it.

What can both sides learn from this?

In this situation, I would advise each side as follows:

Employee Takeaway: Grab a meeting with your boss and share your concerns about the workload and constant change in priorities. Ask if there might be some way for you both to review daily which tasks are not top priority so you both know which items will fall into the category of "planned neglect" - which is code for, "we'll get to it later." This can help you start to feel more of a sense of control and accomplishment. Knowing you got the ten most important items on the list will feel more satisfying. I would also encourage you to explore some stress management tools (i.e. mediation apps), to help you stay calm and focused. Over time, you will get more and more skilled at handling this pace. Especially, if you can build strategies to help you keep your stress in check.

Manager Takeaway: Ask yourself if you can do a better job of organizing what your own priorities are. Keeping your team focused and on-track will help them be more productive and feel more successful. The less crazy you can make the pace of work feel, the easier it is to get more out of your employees. Before you drop another task on your employee's desk, consider holding off and sharing a list of tasks just once/day. You'll look more pulled together as a manager, and they'll appreciate not being interrupted repeatedly while working on your most pressing items.

Published on: Jan 24, 2017
The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of