Should I quit my job?
March 5, 2014 5:46 PM   Subscribe

Overworked and about to be more so. Should I quit?

I work as an assistant to a high level executive in a sector that I have no previous experience in. I took this job because it was offered to me, I needed the work, and I had loans to pay (ah grad school).

The executive I work for is very nice and very busy. He has high expectations, but he also achieves a lot so I think his expectations are merited. His job description is expanding and as a result, so are my tasks. All the tasks that are assigned to me are time sensitive and extremely important to the company's success. Basically: they must get done and immediately.

In the past few months I have been working practically non-stop. I come in on time, work straight until lunch with no break, eat a five minute lunch at my desk, work straight through the afternoon with no break, and end up leaving an hour or so after I am supposed to. I have been completing a ton of things. At the same time I am utterly past capacity at this point. The long work hours are exhausting, especially when I don't really have time to collect my thoughts. I feel like I have to keep plowing through all the tasks just to get everything done. Even with my overwork there are still things that slip through the cracks. The overwork has been taking a toll on my home life, my self esteem, and my ability to concentrate.

I feel as if the executive I work for needs to add another employee to his staff (at least part time). Unfortunately it's a small organization, and I know they don't have the budget for that.

So, I'm feeling kind of lost, very stressed, and I have been thinking about quitting. I interviewed with a different company about a month ago but I haven't heard anything back yet. If I quit, it would be without a job offer and that sort of terrifies me. My spouse and I were also hoping to save for a down payment after my loans were paid off; Unemployment would put a pause in that.

On the other hand, I'm a DINK and my spouse makes enough that we could get by without too much trouble. And my loans are nearly completely paid off at this point. I want to do something related to my masters degree (which is completely unrelated to the company where I work).

TLDR: Too much work, can't negotiate workload, not related to degree, can survive on spouse income, would prefer to work (somewhere).

So, should I quit my job?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd try to talk to your executive to see if you can come up with some sort of agreement before just quitting without another job. Yes, it is a small company, but this is stuff that needs to get done. It is important to the overall company success and just filling your role with another person isn't going to change the overworkedness of the position.

Ask expectations. Be honest. Something along the lines of "I think right now the work load I already have added with the new responsibilities will take another 20 hours a week. As I am already full time, this isn't something I can accomplish. Is there anything the company can do? If not, how can I prioritize because it all cannot get done by me alone. I simply cannot work that many hours over." If he says absolutely not then you can quit. If he hires someone, you can work there a little longer until you are ready to leave.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:54 PM on March 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

I (a fellow executive assistant with a very nice boss) would at least mention to your boss that you need more help before throwing in the towel. They might be able to afford a part-time assistant for you, or even an intern, or maybe there is someone else in your organization that could help take some of the weight off your shoulders.

If ultimately you don't like the work and want to do something else, though, you have my permission to quit. Still, I think it's worth letting them know that the job is too much for one person before you go.
posted by something something at 5:54 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're this close to the line, is it worth pushing pack a bit?

If you say something like "boss, I'm way overburdened and it's inevitable that the work is going to suffer under these conditions -- plus I can feel my health beginning to decline", then there is a business problem to be solved here which is, ultimately, his responsibility. He may choose to tell you to just push through, which means he intends to use you up until you burn out, which means definitely look for another job and quit as soon as you can. But maybe he might find a way to hire someone else - it's not impossible.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:56 PM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nothing to be lost by raising it with your boss, as others suggest. If you're burned out, your replacement will be too. Maybe they'll act, maybe not. If not, your situation permits you to quit w/o a job offer. Cast off.
posted by LonnieK at 6:02 PM on March 5, 2014

You are suggesting that you only have two options: quit or work at the same exact pace.

I think you should explore a third way that is less extreme than either of those two options.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:07 PM on March 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Have you been keeping track of the hours you're working? It would be worth meeting with your boss to discuss how badly overworked you already are, and that adding even more work isn't feasible.

(And you are getting paid overtime for the hours over 40 in a week, right? If not, your boss could find himself on the hook for penalties for wage and hour violations.)
posted by Lexica at 6:15 PM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

"Hey Boss, with your new expanded responsibilities, I'm expecting my workload with increase. I don't think I can handle that. I'm already staying late every night and skipping my lunch break. In fact, I've been thinking of speaking to you about going half-time. Is that something you'd consider?"
posted by at at 6:16 PM on March 5, 2014

He has high expectations, but he also achieves a lot so I think his expectations are merited.

He achieves a lot because of you! Ask for a raise and an assistant. Your leverage is his desired level of output, the implication that he may not accomplish as much if he has to train someone new and also risk they aren't as good as you.
posted by rhizome at 6:17 PM on March 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

On second read...

I feel as if the executive I work for needs to add another employee to his staff (at least part time). Unfortunately it's a small organization, and I know they don't have the budget for that.

Well then maybe they can spend some of their copious productivity on making more money. If they're screwing the little guy (you) and not even increasing revenue, then what's the point? Here's a test: ask for a week's vacation in like April. If they turn your vacation down, turn down a raise, and turn down additional people, quit.
posted by rhizome at 6:28 PM on March 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

Maybe there's tasks that can be outsourced to a virtual assistant. Cheaper and less paperwork than an onsite employee.
posted by Sophont at 6:33 PM on March 5, 2014

Yes, if the alternative is to quit with no safety net, why not just determine what WOULD be a sane amount of work to do and set your limit there? Work with your boss to prioritize your tasks accordingly.

(If you let us know what's challenging about that idea, we can help.)
posted by salvia at 6:57 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I work for a small organization where people have repeatedly pushed for more employees, and because they were necessary, eventually it happened. The existing employees had to be clear about their needs, though. You might have to keep repeating yourself, you might have to be really clear about your limitations as one human being, but if you're thinking of quitting anyway, you don't have much to lose. See if you can set up a meeting to discuss this, being clear that you are working through your lunches/staying late at work already and if they want the work done properly and well and in a timely fashion, they need to hire another employee. Maybe they "don't have the budget," but could move things around and somehow magically find it when it becomes clear you do eventually need vacation or a raise or a lot of overtime.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:05 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

The up-front way would be to say, "I appreciate that you're giving me more and more responsibility. I feel like to accomplish all this, I'm going to need at least a part-time assistant." And then tell them why that will put money in their pocket (because you'll be even more productive.)

The passive-aggressive, but still straightforward, way to deal would be to simply ask, with each new task, what its priority is. Then list all the tasks, and never get around to the lowest priority ones.

And if he asks, just say, "Yes, I'm hoping to get to that."

From the exec's point of view, he keeps piling on the work and you keep doing it. So why wouldn't he pile on even more work? You're a superb assistant.

Just because they want it done doesn't mean you are morally obligated to deliver. It's good for them, but is it good for you?
posted by musofire at 7:19 PM on March 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

I was in your shoes 15 years ago. I gave my very best, every day. I loved the work, stayed late and worked Saturdays, with measurable results, but it was never enough.

Finally, I couldn't continue without saying something to my boss, but I had kept it bottled up for so long that when I finally said something, I, a grown man, started crying. Then, to my amazement, she started crying, because she had zero idea that I was so overworked and unhappy.

As professionally embarrassing as that moment was, it was a watershed career moment. I got a promotion and a staff position to help me.

Much later, when she left, I got her job. What have I learned since then? First, never be so disconnected that this kind of drama can fester unbeknown to you. Second, fuck budgets; when you want to keep someone because they're valuable, you listen, you respond and you do what you need to do to make them happy within the bounds of fairness and equanimity, and you go to bat for them monetarily if you lack discretionary authority.

Which is only to say, talk to your boss. As busy as he may be, your welfare is important to his success, and if he doesn't see that....
posted by Short Attention Sp at 7:20 PM on March 5, 2014 [26 favorites]

I'd re-read these two statements and consider if they're both true:

"All the tasks that are assigned to me are time sensitive and extremely important to the company's success. Basically: they must get done and immediately."

"Unfortunately it's a small organization, and I know they don't have the budget for [more staff]."

If the company isn't able to make resources available to do these things, they can get by without them. On the flip side, if the tasks are truly critical, they can make the necessary resources available.

I nth the recommendation to tell your boss you're feeling burnt out. The status quo isn't sustainable. It's in both your & your employers interest to make it sustainable by lightening your load.
posted by ktheory at 8:17 PM on March 5, 2014

You don't even have to have a true confessions moment to start setting boundaries. You can just say "I don't think I'll be able to entirely finish both A and B today. Which should I do first?" Forget the fact that you could finish A and B in a single day if you stayed late or worked superhumanly fast. You can't stay late every day. It's so unsustainable that you're ready to quit. If you feel a bit guilty, consider that your departure would set the organization back by far, far more. (Your boss would spend dozens of hours or more reviewing applications and finding and training your replacement.) Why not just set limits on your work hours and intensity that make this sustainable for you? It's not only good for you; it's what's best for them in the long run if they're smart enough to realize it.
posted by salvia at 8:55 PM on March 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

I would cut back your output as these new demands crop up and then he will be forced to consider expanding his staff. Unless he can see your every move, just act like you are working as hard as you always have. Then, as the workload is too much, you can gently tell him how overwhelmed you are with the new expanded responsibilities and it seems like too much for the staff you have. It's easier said than done, but if you can find it in yourself to say "I can only do this much work and I am not worrying about the rest," I think that would go a long way.

If you can't do that, you just need to say something about it and be honest. Sounds like you have the luxury of not being desperate to keep this job, so you are free to do something about this without a hint of hesitation.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:03 PM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Money. Fistfuls of money. If you're not getting fistfuls of money, get out the door there. You're being used. Use is abuse. You're wearing thin. Even with fistfuls of money, I doubt you're going to be able to hang in it, esp since it's not your true, true passion -- it's just a flippin' job.

Comical -- I walked into Dennis's office, told him "Dennis, I love you, you're a great boss. But I'm not a fit here. I've gotta get on out the door." What was so comical about it is that I was making 45 bucks an hour and gasoline was $0.87 a gallon, and he's in the outlandish position of getting a guy to stay when making that money -- always, the shoe is on the other foot, everyone would hit him up for more money etc. I don't even have a damn degree, I'm working there on a GED and about fifty hours in a community college. That and Pure-D, Double Dog stubborn -- I am a stubborn son of a bitch, for real.

Fool that I am, I let Dennis talk me into staying. He threw another five bucks an hour at me but mostly it was that I loved Dennis -- charming fucker he was, fun to be around, bright as a strobe, competence out the wazoo. Dennis, if he was an officer he'd lead from the front, laughing, and all his men would love him, and kill the fuck out of anyone in the way, and all the other officers would hate him, knowing that compared to him they were just a bag of pus. Anyways. Dennis was great so of course everyone hated his guts, and fancy dancer that he is they couldn't hit him, but I was a sitting duck, finally and with finality reaching the very tip-top rung of The Peter Principle.

In short: A horror show. They ran me off maybe six months later, every day gruesome, a slog, an act. I was exhausted. I'm all fit and whatnot but that job took it's toll.

I wrote all that to write this -- they'd best be giving you tons of money. Tons. Double fistfulls of C notes every week.. Otherwise, hit the bricks. It's not worth it. It's not worth it. I was so, so relieved to get fired finally, not by Dennis of course but by his boss. I drove down the road a free man, happy as hell to be out of that dive. And I used the money to do the best thing I've ever done in my life. So there's that.

Life is short. Peace is important. Get out of there.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:13 AM on March 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

Don't quit! You are in a great position to learn a lot, which will be invaluable. Cut back on your work hours, their unnecessary. You are already demonstrating your professionalism and work ethic. Even if your boss expects or verbally states you need to work this many hours, I would work on keeping an 8 hour day except in the case of emergencies, which by definition shouldn't be that often. When you demonstrate that you don't value yourself by letting others define your life style, it generally has the opposite effect of earning disrespect from your co-workers. When you stand your ground on doing what is best for you, like working a regular work day, taking a lunch break, people will respect you and value you more. don't be a push over, it isn't necessary and is in fact harmful--especially when you get resentful and quit! Sounds like you are a real asset and your boss won't fire you, so don't quit.
posted by waving at 5:10 AM on March 6, 2014

If you're prepared to quit on the spot, then you really have nothing to lose. So take your concerns to your boss and see if you can negotiate something that will work for everyone.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:21 AM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

You have to have a 'come to Jesus' with your boss. Explain that as it is your workload is a killer, there's no way you can take on any more. Ask to meet with him to discuss how tasks are to be deligated once he takes on more responsibility.

Come with a plan. Identify others in the organization who might be able to take on certain reports, projects, etc. Perhaps an Admin in HR can do his expense reports and make his travel arrangments. Things like that.

When you have a problem, think up some creative solutions.

Besides, if he's taking on more work because someone is leaving, perhaps we're keeping that person's Admin.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:05 AM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Like you, I'm an executive assistant with a grad degree, that took my current EA job because bills need to be paid. I work for nice people in a small office for the most part that also pile on the work, resulting in me getting stressed out and overloaded. So, as a fellow overworked EA, I totally feel your pain!

In my case, I tried to be proactive with discussing my work load with my boss, tracked my hours to show what I was doing each day, etc. My boss was willing to listen to me, and offered some potential suggestions, but after being here for a year with no real improvement and more and more responsibilities, I am at the point where I am totally burnt out and bitter and want to quit every day, but I need the money until I figure out what else to do.

So, don't be like me! I would say follow other posters' advice about communicating your workload concerns to your boss, and see if your boss will actually follow through in making changes to help you out. However, I would also start simultaneously looking for something in your field. It feels a lot less stressful to look for work while already being employed. I would also advise you to stay away from any more EA/admin assistant type positions. My own (jaded) viewpoint is that admins and EA positions always get piled on, and if you leave, they will just find someone else to do the same to.

Plus, if admin work is not something you want to do long term, you always want to be working towards what you want to do. Admin work will give you general office skills, but that's about it, unless your boss is really dedicated to the professional development of his staff, which is not always the case.
posted by annie_oakley at 8:56 AM on March 6, 2014

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