Dear Sylvia:Our department lost an employee and we are drowning in overwhelm! Help!

Dear Sylvia,

My company has cut back and our department lost one employee. Although my supervisor and other administrators know we cannot provide the same level of support and do everything that was done before, they still seem to be holding us to the same expectations they had when there were six employees instead of five. I have talked to them several times and explained we are all working extra and doing more than ever but still can’t keep up with the large workload and new initiatives. My department is drowning in overwhelm. How can I make them understand and adjust their expectations or provide additional help?

Dear Frustrated and Overwhelmed:

The situation you describe is both extremely common and challenging. Unfortunately, the economic crisis and slow recovery over the last three years has served as the catalyst for dramatic change in most companies across the nation. These dramatic changes have increased the stress experienced by millions of employees. While there are no easy answers to this problem, I think seeking clarity about your work-related priorities is essential. Because there are only so many hours in a day, I recommend that you engage your direct supervisor in conversation about what he/she sees as YOUR top five priorities, for example. Once you are clear about them (preferably in ranked order), you can organize your time in alignment with those priorities. Focusing on the identified priorities can help to reduce feelings of overwhelm, allowing you to be more productive in the long run. Although administrators/managers may want the work to flow as seamlessly as it once did, the reality of our times does not permit that. Trying to function as if you had more employees than you do sets all of you up for burnout. A plan for coping must be made.

My second recommendation is that you look for specific ways to nurture and care for yourself in the midst of this chronic stress. Schedule half an hour into each day when you do something just for you.

You must build it into your calendar or it won’t happen. Your body, mind, emotions, and spirit need refreshment on a regular basis or you risk getting sick. These half hour periods may revive your energy, boost your motivation, and prevent you from sinking into a low level depression that will detract from your quality of life. Figure out what makes you feel good–even temporarily–and give yourself permission to experience them. I am not talking about buying expensive items that don’t provide long-term relief but rather reading an inspirational story, walking around the block, calling a friend, enjoying a chair massage, eating an ice cream cone, taking a bath. These kinds of things seem small, but if you treat yourself to one of them daily, they have the power to make a significant impact on your overall health, contentment, and wellbeing.


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