How to Tell Your Manager You Need a Break
Alexandra, new to the workforce, is finding it tough to know when it’s time to take a break. Her transition from full-time student to full-time employee has been overwhelming. When you’re in school and studying for finals you know you have a long break coming up, which gives you the extra push you need to finish strong and stay motivated.
Now it feels like work is just one long final exam and there is no extended holiday vacation to rest and recharge. While you feel exhausted all day long and need more and more coffee to stay awake, you find yourself awake at 2am thinking about the day ahead. You scroll Instagram and fantasize about quitting your job, selling all your belongings and leaving the country to “find yourself.”
You were so confident and sure of yourself in college but now you question every decision and agonize over the wording of every email. Everything and everyone sets you off and not only have you yelled at your mother this week, you got into it with your roommate too.
Alexandra is experiencing anxiety and depression. We often think of people who struggle with depression as being unable to get out of bed or with anxiety as someone who is always in a state of panic. While those images are real for some people, most mental health issues start small and can easily be ignored at first
To make matters even more complicated, now we have COVID-19, the anti-racism movement, and an election year — all major things that have affected every person’s life in a big way. It used to be one email that set you over the edge, but now instead of needing a long weekend to recover you feel like you need to quit your job altogether because who knows how long it will take you to feel better.
As a psychotherapist and certified coach, I’ve spent the last 10 years primarily working with young professionals, like Alexandra, who leave college full of energy but end up burned out and struggling with anxiety and depression just a few years into their careers. Being “connected” all day, every day has placed impossible expectations on young people and they don’t know how to push back and say, “I need a break.”
The goal is to learn how to be an advocate for your mental health. While many of my clients will nod their heads agreeing with my recommendations to “take a break and leave work early several days a week,” they’re struggling to implement these changes once they leave my office. Setting and creating boundaries around work is hard, much harder than it was for me and my fellow Generation Xers and all the earlier generations especially when you can’t just walk down the hall and knock on your boss’s door anymore. Now you have to send an email or Slack message asking, “Can we talk?”
Preparing for the Meeting
So, you’ve determined you need time off, or a lighter workload, because you’ve been going at a pace that isn’t working for you and frankly the things happening in the world around us has become too much. The next step is to approach your boss and let him or her know what you need. The two most important things to think about when approaching anyone when you need them to be thoughtful and listen are timing and tone.
1. Choose the right time.
Your manager is experiencing stress, along with all those distractions that are making you feel overwhelmed and anxious, on a daily basis. Think about when your manager is usually the most calm and able to listen. You know your manager best so listen to your instincts and determine what time of day they’re at their calmest.
Either tell your manager in person or send a note to give him or her a heads up on what you want to talk about during the meeting. You don’t need to say, “I need a break” but rather let your boss know you want to discuss your workload or your responsibilities. People generally like to know what’s on the agenda and if your manager tends to be anxious, seeing a random meeting on their calendar might make them on edge for the meeting.
2. Write out what you want to say.
Spend some time writing down everything you want to communicate to your manager. Think about what has been creating the most anxiety for you and what needs to change in order for you to be successful.
Managers are constantly tasked with solving problems so decide what it is that you need right now from your manager. If you simply tell your manager you’re feeling stressed and need “time off” you’re giving your manager another problem to solve and allowing them to decide the length of your “break.”
Think about the aspects of your role you find the most challenging and ask yourself, “Is there something I could be doing differently that doesn’t involve my manager or anyone else?” Many times when we start to look at the situation differently we discover we have a lot more control than we originally thought.
3. Don’t make assumptions about what your manager knows.
Clients will tell me, “I get so anxious when my manager sends me an email on Saturday because I feel like I need to respond right away.” When I ask them if they’ve talked to their boss about this issue, they say “No.”
Most managers have no idea you’re even looking at email over the weekend. They assume you’re checking on Monday and when you respond on Saturday they’re not thinking how this is affecting you and your level of anxiety.
4. Practice your tone ahead of time.
Practice what you’re going to say to the mirror or to a friend to make sure you’re using the best language and an inviting tone.
While you might be full of confidence when you set the appointment, it’s completely normal to feel afraid and full of doubt right before you have the conversation. Remember how you want people to think of you at the end of your life, think about your values and what you believe in, and most importantly, remember you have to be your biggest advocate at all times.
During the Meeting
Walk into the meeting knowing you have a plan of action but remain flexible. Use “I” statements to express how you’re feeling and exactly how much time you think you’ll need to address what’s going on. Some of my clients simply needed a couple of days to rest and recharge and others needed to take an extended break of 3-4 weeks in order to have time to see a psychiatrist for medication management and possibly get into a short-term program to help them develop better tools for managing anxiety and depression. Have an idea of how much time you need off and what are the other modifications to your role in order to help you perform better.
The older I get the easier it is for me to have difficult conversations and the more you challenge yourself to have these kinds of conversations, the easier it will get for you as well. The only way to get better and less anxious about difficult conversations is to have difficult conversations. Think of it like a muscle. If you run from these moments, you’ll never be able to build this kind of muscle and the harder it will be for you to ask for what you want in the future. And remember, if it’s a difficult conversation for you, it’s probably a difficult conversation for your manager too.