Ask The Headhunter: Am I burning myself out for success?

BY Nick Corcodilos  December 31, 2013 at 11:58 AM EST

It’s your boss’ fault for piling too much work on you, but it’s your fault for not speaking up, says headhunter Nick Corcodilos. Photo courtesy of Comstock Images via Getty Images.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: My problem is this. I’m a good worker. As has happened with every job I’ve ever had, I’ve come in entry-level, and have had more and more piled on me until I’m a bundle of nerves and stress. I’ve handled this very well until now.

My current job is the first I’ve had that recognizes my abilities and has compensated me fairly, both monetarily (not too fairly, though!) and with responsibility and management duties. I was hired as a documentation manager. Because I’ve performed well, I have now inherited all pricing issues for the corporation as well as internal marketing and the task of bringing our company into compliance with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Help!

I’m only one person and can do only so much in a 16-hour day! (Isn’t it supposed to be eight hours?) I was hired at an entry-level salary and have received healthy raises, but that doesn’t compensate for feeling burned out.

I’ve absorbed the workloads of two individuals who are no longer working with the company, whose combined salaries were very significant. I look forward to any suggestions or comments you are willing to provide! Thanks!

Nick Corcodilos: I’ve known more than a few people with your energetic work ethic who don’t know when to tell their employer, “This is too much!” The fact that you keep getting yourself into these situations isn’t surprising. It happens to all kinds of people: clerks, engineers, lawyers, salespeople, even CEOs. You’ve got to face it and deal with it.

First, as a manager, you’re responsible for delegating some of the work that needs to be done if you want your larger role to be successful.

Second, part of what you’re paid for is to tell management the truth. The truth is this: The functions you are responsible for require additional staff.

Prepare a simple plan that outlines:

  • The work that needs to be done — that is, the source of the work, the nature of the work and the time it takes to do it.
  • The profit produced by the work. Remember, profit = revenue – cost. You contribute to either or both, but you must produce profit or your job gets eliminated. Do your best to estimate the bottom line. (Don’t worry if your numbers aren’t accurate. It’s the attempt to estimate that counts.)
  • The cost of manpower and tools required to do the work profitably. This includes you and any additional necessary staff.
  • Finally, a description of the relationship between the size of the department and the amount of output you can produce. (16-hour days are not allowed.)

The point is to quantify the work and to show how quality is related to the resources allocated to getting the work done. (See “Tell ‘Em What They Need To Hear.”)

No matter how much work you keep taking on, as long as you accept it, the company will continue to heap on more. It’s their fault for expecting so much, but it’s your fault for letting them think you can handle it. The willingness to do more work doesn’t justify burning yourself out.

Once you’ve got a plan prepared, schedule a meeting with your boss. Don’t tell him you’re having a problem. Tell him you think you have the documentation, pricing, marketing, and ISO functions organized now. Then show him your plan, including the manpower requirements. Don’t complain and don’t be defensive. Just give him the facts.

This is a very important message for everyone, no matter what job or level they work at because we all get sucked into “working harder to get ahead.” Not being able to work 16-hour days is not something you have to apologize for. However, it is your responsibility to show the company what needs to be done to handle the work effectively. That’s your first job as a manager and as a responsible employee. If you don’t deal with this problem now, on this job, you will continue to face it throughout your life. The sign of a good manager is dealing with the problem, not doing all the work her or himself.

One caution: Some companies prefer to kill an employee with work rather than spend what it takes to do the job fairly and to do it right. If this describes your company, be prepared to look for a new job. I hope your employer is ethical. You owe it to yourself to have a job that’s reasonable.

Readers: Have you ever burned out? How did you recover? What are your tips for getting out from under an unreasonable job?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2013 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark. This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions