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When complaining of overwork, be careful

FORT LAUDERDALE — Workers who have survived layoffs but also gained extra work are feeling overworked in the recession. Many fail to confront their boss for fear of losing their jobs. How can an employee constructively complain to a higher-up without being shown the door? Marcia Heroux Pounds, Sun Sentinel

Do it with tact: It's a fine line to walk, but improving your communication skills can help you navigate this minefield, experts say.

"It has to be done very tactfully," says JoAnna Brandi, an expert in customer and employee retention in Boca Raton.

Brandi suggests proactive communication with the boss, asking, "How often would you like me to check back on this project?" Or if a worker is being presented with an unrealistic project or deadline: "I'm not sure I can get all this done in the next two weeks. Could you help me prioritize?"

Rehearse first: Bob Preziosi, a professor of management at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, suggests that employees rehearse what they're going to say to a boss with a friend, spouse or partner. "You've got to think it through real carefully, what the problem is, and represent it as it's 'my problem,' that it's not an attempt to blame the boss or the organization," he says.

Brief and to the point: Pick a good time to talk with your boss, when he or she is energized. Be brief in your complaint and back it up with data. "This is not a time to tip-toe around the tulips. Go right for it: 'During the first quarter of 2009, I was working 40 hours a week, now it's 60. I'm not getting any more done because I'm worn out,' " Preziosi said.

Know when to back off: "Never push so hard you're putting your job at risk," Preziosi cautions. "Let your boss decide when the conversation is over. It's important for your boss to say, 'Thanks. We'll talk about this some more.' " If your boss says he or she will think about the issue, send an e-mail in about a half-hour saying, "Thanks for your time. I appreciate you listening to me."

Boss might be overworked too: Asked about the issue of overworking employees in these economic times, some chief executives say they, too, are working more.

Coleen Sterns Leith, president of Marketing Matters, a public relations and marketing firm in Hollywood, says she was honest with her team about the slowdown last year, telling them the revenue needed to stay afloat. "Everybody truly stepped up to the plate," she says.

She still had to do layoffs, but business has picked up. That means she's more hands-on and everyone is working more. But the employees who are left "have the attitude of 'whatever it takes.' " Leith says.

Open communication: Juan Rodriguez, 34, of Miami says he has learned how to communicate with his boss. "I'm in constant communication with my boss," says Rodriguez, a financial analyst. "We bounce ideas off one another. We work as a team."

When complaining of overwork, be careful 02/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 4, 2010 3:30am]

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