New job? Here’s how to avoid getting overwhelmed

How to avoid getting overwhelmed at a new job

New company. New coworkers. New responsibilities. Starting out in a fresh role is exciting but it can be easy to get overwhelmed if the pressure begins to build. Whether it happens because you are trying to prove yourself or because you are passionate about your job, your workload can build up until it becomes unbearable. Rather than letting it get to that stage, however, it’s better to look out for any warning signs.

There are those who put in extra hours every night, those who find themselves working on projects they never agreed to and those who just don’t know how to say no. Whatever your reason for taking on so much work, there’s no need to let it become unsustainable and problematic. So how do you explain to your boss that you can’t keep up the pace? Mila M Elhamdi, a career management consultant, explains how to make sure it all goes smoothly in your new job so that you don’t get into trouble or feel like resigning.

Check the job description

Before taking up a new role, you should have a clear definition of what the job entails: a vague description can leave you open to being asked to do more and more. It’s important to clarify the terms of the job description with your supervisor. If you’re asked to go above and beyond what’s been outlined, you can ask for your job title to be reviewed,” says Elhamdi.

Annabelle, who’s been working in a kitchen for over a year, is now paying the price of not doing that as her role continues to expand. Every day, she takes on more tasks that are not part of her job description. “When I started out at the restaurant, I was finishing three hours later than I was scheduled to because my to-do list kept growing and I couldn’t leave my colleagues in the lurch. This didn’t get any better during lockdown. The problem is that I help out others and I try to do things to make the kitchen better organized, but that’s not actually my job,” she says, adding that the previous day she had gone into work three hours early to help out. Working these extra hours was supposed to be a temporary arrangement during Covid to help the restaurant to stay afloat. However, she is still putting in long hours during the week without getting any extra recognition.

Explore more in our section: Workers

Motivation at work: two common myths debunked

Get a feel for the place

You wouldn’t dive into water without having some idea whether it was safe. So you should really be just as cautious when joining a new company. Take a step back, observe your new professional environment, and adapt to it. “When they first start a new role, many staff make the mistake of rushing into a project without taking the time to get to know their coworkers, how they work, what their workload is like, or talking to them about what they know about the position,” says Elhamdi. Taking the time to get to know your new workplace and what makes it tick is a step you shouldn’t overlook if you want things to go smoothly. Understanding the company culture or the processes your coworkers have set up, for example, can help your productivity when you’re starting out at a new job. Observing your coworkers will give you an idea of the workload. You shouldn’t hesitate to ask for feedback or to discuss your respective tasks either.

Know your limits

How much should you take on to make sure your integration into the company goes well? For Manon, 26, making herself available to help others out was fine during the first few months, when her schedule allowed it. “I didn’t have a lot of responsibilities when I first started at my company, so I gladly offered to help out,” she says. “But when my job really got going and my workload increased, I naturally started setting boundaries. Now when I’m asked to handle any administrative paperwork, I gently send the person to a coworker.” To help maintain her standards at work and her own wellbeing, the engineer in environmental health and safety learned how to say no and to set boundaries. “I enjoy my work, I like to see my projects through to the end, and I like challenges, but I’m not going to kill myself getting them done. I know my psychological and physical limits and, if I can’t handle all the files that are piling up, it’s not a big deal: some projects can wait three weeks if needs be,” says Manon, adding that she has never been criticized by her superiors for refusing to do more than necessary.

If you would like to know your own limits, why not list any situations where you would have liked to have said no, but didn’t. Then think about how that affected your emotions, and your levels of productivity or tiredness. Becoming aware of the repercussions of saying yes for the wrong reasons will encourage you to listen to your own needs.

Talk to your superior

If the pace of work picks up and becomes unmanageable, it’s best to talk about it with either your supervisor or human resources. Do it promptly so that the situation doesn’t deteriorate too much. “A manager’s objective is to get optimal levels of work done and to achieve their objectives. You have to speak their language when you bring up any issues,” says Elhamdi. If you want to have a constructive dialogue when you bring up the issue, you’ll need to think about offering alternatives to show you’re willing to work together to achieve the same goals. Instead of saying that finishing such-and-such a file is impossible and you won’t be able to do it, you could shift focus and say that the extra tasks you have been asked to do are affecting your productivity with that initial project.

Elhamdi says that if it’s too difficult to get things back to the way they were initially, you can ask for a reassessment of your role based on what you’re actually doing. “It doesn’t mean you’re looking for conflict, it simply means you’re asking them to evaluate again what your responsibilities are,” she says.

Don’t wait too long

Choosing when to have that conversation is important. Ideally, you shouldn’t wait too long. Admitting to your boss that your job is wearing you out is not without its risks: it might seem like you don’t have the necessary skills and that you’re easily overwhelmed. A double whammy! “A manager doesn’t want to hear you complain or to say that you’re drowning in work. It could give them the impression that you’re just not up to the job,” says Elhamdi.

Annabelle, who’s giving serious thought to resigning, has one last card to play: “I called a staff meeting to explain what was going on with me. I noted down the points I was not okay with and sent them to the boss. So he’s going to have to make a decision. Constantly telling me ‘It’ll get better in two weeks’ won’t work anymore,” says Annabelle, who is determined to cut her hours to something more manageable.

Before diving happily into your new role, you should pay attention to a few elements. Make sure that you have a clear job description and that you take the time to see how things really work in your new environment. Then, do a little fine-tuning with your supervisor if you want to avoid burning out quickly –– or indeed at all.

Translated by: Kalin Linsberg

Photo: WTTJ

Follow Welcome to the Jungle on Facebook on LinkedIn and on Instagram and subscribe to our newsletter to get our latest articles every day!

  • Add to favorites
  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on LinkedIn

Related reads

Latest articles

Follow us!

Receive advice and information on new hiring companies directly in your inbox each week.

You can unsubscribe whenever you want. We won't bother you, promise. To learn more about our data protection policy, click here

And on our social networks: