It’s a vicious cycle: you can tell your boss is stressed, so you try to do more to make them happy. But the more and more you over deliver, the less they seems to respond, and you become frustrated. How do you work well with a boss who isn’t necessarily bad or crazy, but just seems overwhelmed?
You might ask yourself: Why can’t they appreciate all I’m doing for them? Is she mad at me? Should I be doing more? So then you double down your efforts only to find that they’re even more terse with you and less open. You feel frustrated and confused. What’s going on and why is trying to make my boss happy making them even more upset?
The solution: Stop trying to make your boss happy and start saving them time.
Here’s the deal: The last thing an overwhelmed boss wants is a three page email from you describing every detail of a project that’s either not something that he’s asked for or is more than he or she needs. When you’re working with someone who is stretched extremely thin, you need to give them exactly what they want. More is less.
If you tend to be over eager to over deliver, here’s how to check yourself and improve your happiness at work while helping your boss.
Stop Trying to Make Your Boss Happy
You can’t make anyone else happy, and that isn’t really your job. Your boss is the only person who can decide if he is going to be happy. Putting pressure on yourself to make someone feel or not feel something is unhealthy for you and annoying for the other person. Do both of yourselves a favor and stop it. Instead, start directing your efforts toward thinking about how you can get the work down and save your boss time.
Don’t Do the Work Like You Would For Yourself
If you have a different style than your boss, give them what they want instead of what you want. This is especially true if they tend to like things short and concise and are busy. Just because you would like to know every detail does not mean that you’re doing them a favor by telling them everything. In this case the golden rule doesn’t apply. Instead treat your boss how he or she would like to be treated.
Do Follow the Systems They Set Up
You may think that using checklists, sending meeting notes, or updating tracking documents are boring and unnecessary, but these documents are what allow your boss to know what’s been done or not done. This gives them peace of mind, reduces the amount of time they spend following up, and makes it faster and easier for them to find answers to questions they may have or others ask of them. Making it easy for your boss to know what you’ve done is almost as important as doing the work.
Be Concise and Use Bullet Points in Emails
The shorter and clearer the email, the better. Ask them about their preferences on communication. Some bosses prefer one topic per email while others prefer a consolidated list of questions in a single email. Also some bosses desire an immediate confirmation that you received an email while others are fine with you waiting to reply until you have time to address the issue. Obviously the specific format depends on what a particular person may want, but clarity and brevity are key.
When Possible, Make Decisions Yourself
Unless you’re explicitly told not to do so, make reasonable decisions to move projects forward whenever you can. It’s good to keep your boss informed about your decisions, but you don’t necessarily need to wait for their approval to keep things moving. Many times, they’ll be relieved that things happened without them having to be involved in every detail.
Don’t Expect Appreciation
If you tend to be the type of person who cares about making your boss happy, you probably also tend to be the type of person that really likes recognition. It’s understandable. Appreciation feels nice. But if you’re working with someone who is incredibly time crunched, they may or may not be in a place to stop and express gratitude. Instead of worrying about whether or not you’ll get accolades and then wasting a lot of time being upset if you don’t get them, focus on the work and making yourself happy.
Stop trying to make your boss happy, and start trying to find how to best work for them, regardless of praise. You’ll find yourself in a much happier place at work.
About Real Life E®
Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder and CEO of Real Life E® a time coaching and training company that empowers individuals who feel guilty, overwhelmed and frustrated to feel peaceful, confident and accomplished. She is an expert on achieving more success with less stress. Real Life E® also increases employee productivity, satisfaction and work/life balance through coaching and training programs.
McGraw Hill published her first book The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success with Less Stress. Harvard Business Review recently published her second book How to Invest Your Time Like Money. Elizabeth contributes to blogs like Lifehacker, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and the 99U blog on productivity for creative professionals and has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox.