Career advice

Not enough colleagues? How to look after yourself

You can't take responsibility for making sure everything works if your workplace is short of staff. Here's how to say no when tasks pile up on your desk.

You want to be a good colleague and a conscientious employee.

That's why when your manager asks if you have time for an extra task, you say yes.

Otherwise the task will just end up with one of your colleagues, or it won't get done at all, you think to yourself. But you can feel your stomach tightening at the thought that you'll now be even busier.

Many IDA members are under pressure at work because they lack colleagues in the workplace. They work too long hours, rush through their tasks and often have to juggle several positions at once to make ends meet for their team.

In most cases, the cause of their overwork is not an unreasonable manager who forces them to work overtime. They take on the extra work themselves because they are conscientious and dedicated employees who forget to think about their own well-being.

It is your employer's responsibility to ensure that you have a healthy working environment, but unfortunately we see that not all employers do so. So if you're in a workplace with too many tasks and too few employees, it is a good idea to learn to look after yourself.

Listen to your body's signals

First, it is necessary to understand why so many resourceful IDA members can become so stressed that severe stress symptoms become part of their daily lives.

It's no problem if you give it a little extra in the run-up to a holiday or a project deadline. The body is designed to be able to mobilise all its resources and a little more at times when it needs to.

The problem is if the exceptionally busy period becomes the norm, for example because your workplace is short of staff. It's like running a marathon where the finish line keeps moving - now you don't just get sore legs, you get seriously overloaded.

Unfortunately, there is no rule of thumb for how long you can last working overtime. It depends on your individual resources, but also very much on your environment.

If you find your work meaningful and have good support from your manager and colleagues, you can really go the distance. Conversely, if you feel that your work is meaningless or that tasks are falling on you without you having any say in them, you are more likely to become overloaded.

Your body reacts to overloads and tries to warn you if it is using more resources than you have, so it is important that you learn to listen to your body's signals. How we react varies, but you may find that your stomach or shoulders hurt, you become irritable and short-tempered, or you sleep badly.

You can test yourself for symptoms of stress here (In Danish)

Breathe before you say yes

The best thing, of course, is to prevent yourself from becoming so stressed that your body starts to shut down.

A quick tip is not to say yes immediately if your manager or colleague asks if you can take on another task. Instead, say that of course you want to help, but that you need some time to get an overview of your tasks - then spend a few hours or a day considering your options.

Then try to get an overview of all your tasks and their time consumption by writing them down on a list or in your Outlook calendar. You can also notice if your body reacts with anxiety or stress symptoms to having to work more.

If you are unable to complete a new task without affecting your other tasks or your personal life, ask for help to remove or postpone some of your other tasks instead.

It can be hard to say no when you want to appear robust and helpful, but try to treat yourself as if you were your own best friend. Often we demand far more of ourselves than we do of others, and if your friend told you that he or she had far more tasks to do than he or she had time for, you would probably encourage your friend to look after him- or herself.

Beware of unregistered work

In IDA we talk to quite a few members who work in the evenings or at weekends without registering it anywhere.

Often they don't tell their manager or colleagues because "it's just a few emails while they have the TV on in the background". We can call it shadow work because it is not recorded and it can become a big problem if your colleagues and your manager do not know how much you really work.

Many of those who end up on sick leave with stress are well aware that they are working at the edge of what they have the resources for, for a long time leading up to their sick leave. But they don't always tell those around them that they are under enormous pressure before they suddenly crack, to everyone's surprise.

No one can read your mind, so it's important to tell your manager if you can't complete your tasks within the agreed working hours.

If you've started working in your spare time, it's a good idea to keep a logbook for a while or to enter all your tasks in Outlook to get an overview of how much work you're doing. That way you have something visual to go on when you ask your manager for help prioritising your tasks, so you can get back to a manageable workload.

Hurry away if you don't get help

If you've repeatedly asked your manager for help prioritising your tasks without getting anywhere, you should seriously consider finding another job - especially if you're starting to show symptoms of stress.

Looking for a new job can seem overwhelming if you're already under pressure at work. So you may need to find some time to look for jobs.

If you find it difficult to take time off earlier to write job applications, try thinking of it as time off in lieu - even if you don't actually have any. Try telling yourself that you've worked too much in the past, and that taking some time off early now will probably work out just fine.

When looking for a job, make sure you don't end up in a new workplace with the same old problems. This often happens if you only look at jobs that you have all the qualifications to do, but which you are not necessarily interested in.

So try to notice what makes you happy at work and what drains you of energy. IDA's career counsellors can help you do this, and can further guide you towards the right job.

Making a well-considered decision allows you to choose your next job based not only on your preferences, but also on your skills.

Theme: Stress

Learn how to recognise the symptoms of stress, what your rights are in your job, and how IDA can assist you.

View stress theme