The Right Way To Talk To Your Boss About Your Work-Related Stress


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Kelly Poulson51
Coach. Career Navigator. Ass Kicker. Dog mom.
May 18, 2024 at 7:50AM UTC
Let’s face it: work can be stressful sometimes. Or a lot of times. And when you’re feeling overwhelmed, it impacts you, whether or not you notice. Often you're not in control of how and when this happens — but how you choose to handle those times can really help or hinder how you get through it and how successful you’ll be in the long run. What you do (or don’t do) with the fact that you’re feeling overwhelmed can really make a difference.
There are some of us out there who keep it close to the vest and power through. And that might be fine for you if it’s something that only occurs every once and awhile. However, regularly living your life on edge and feeling incredibly stressed out is not OK. You’ll be miserable, unhealthy and unable to deliver your work in a way that you’re capable of. So, in order to avoid that mess, you’ve got to come clean to your boss. That may seem like a hard no — but it’s possible to do it in a way that helps you both!
Here are three tips to keep in mind:
1. Know yourself.
Self awareness is where it’s at. The more self aware and emotionally intelligent you are, the more successful you will be, not only in work, but in life. Look for clues in your world that perhaps the stress level or feeling of overwhelm are reaching the danger zone. Are you having really strong reactions to emails when you’re normally cool as a cucumber? Have you ceased sleeping at night because you’re worrying about upcoming presentations? When you start to notice these signals popping up in your life, stop the insanity. Take a step back and assess. Am I tired? Is burnout rearing its ugly head? Have I been taking good care of myself?
If not, it might be time to tap the brakes and nap. Or at the very least, walk around the block and leave your phone at the office!  When you’re tired, your brain doesn’t function as clearly. Get some perspective on your own before discussing with your manager.
2. Own it.
Now that you’ve had time to assess and realize that you need help, it’s time to own up. There is nothing wrong with feeling overwhelmed. Simply being able to identify that feeling and naming helps to alleviate it slightly. However, you’re not done yet. Part of owning it is expressing it to those around you who can assist. Thinking through the way in which you want to communicate this is really valuable so you come across as the brilliant business badass that you are and not a hot mess.
3. Be brave & make the ask.
Asking for help is hard. It also shows a level of maturity that your boss will appreciate. Think about it this way, if you’re a rockstar who delivers on the regular and you suddenly feel overwhelmed and start dropping the ball, your boss would rather you confess and allow them to help you than having to fix mistakes later.
OR, even worse, you hide it, burn out and move on to another organization because you’ve had enough when she/he saw a bright future for you on their team. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Ask for time with your boss and lead with, “I’m feeling overwhelmed and I’d like your help.” Give them a sense of what is going on and if you’re able, share some ways you think they might be able to assist. Make it known to them that you value delivering the best possible work and if something doesn’t change, that is in jeopardy.
It’s ok if this feels awkward or hard at first. That’s normal. Eventually, you’ll figure out that communicating is the best possible move for not only you and your career but also for your entire team. Hell, I got so good at noticing when times like these were approaching, that my boss and I used to joke that “Logical Kelly isn’t driving the bus,” which was code for, "I need a break, help or your perspective to get through this timeframe with the best possible outcome."
Workload can be shifted around, perspective can be discussed that allows you to see projects completely differently. When you don’t talk about needing support, people won’t always notice that you do. And sometimes, a short conversation can make a huge difference in your successfully navigating a challenging time. Be brave and have the conversation!
Kelly is a human resources pro and coach who helps people find and achieve what they want career-wise and beyond. Coaching, training, recruiting – if you name it in the world of HR, she's done it in a variety of industries. Her advice has been featured on The Muse, Career Contessa, Levo, Workology, among others. Learn more by scoping her out at

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