I’m surrounded by people who look permanently overwhelmed. It shows in their eyes, which are abnormally wide, with pupils dilated. The threat response is visible. It screams, “I’m not handling this!!!”

But other than sharing the ubiquitous complaint about being busy, they aren’t admitting where they’re at, asking for help, or doing anything other than working even more hours trying to get their insurmountable workload done. In short, they’re sucking it up.

I implore you to stop sucking it up.

What Counts as Sucking It Up

  • Taking on a new assignment without asking for reprioritization of your existing workload
  • Routinely working beyond regular working hours without telling anyone
  • Covering for inadequacies in systems, resources, or colleagues by doing extra work
  • Enduring ongoing stress, anxiety, and fear of failure without communicating it

Why Are You Sucking It Up?

I know it’s scary to say something. You’re telling yourself:

  • If I complain, they’ll just pass it to my already overworked teammates.
  • What if they fire me and replace me with someone who won’t say anything?
  • Maybe I’m just too slow. I should be able to get all this done.
  • No one can do this but me; I’m the only one who knows how; I HAVE to do it.
  • I don’t want to give up this juicy opportunity.

Consequences of Taking on Too Much

We’ve gone past the point where sucking it up, plodding ahead, and soldiering on is something to celebrate. We’re in for some nasty consequences. Here’s why I want you to stop sucking it up.

Bad for Your Health

Trying to do it all without breaks or rest is killing you. Night after night of too little sleep or fitful rest is eroding your health. Chaining yourself to your desk and forgoing proper food, exercise, or fresh air is toxic. Marinating in a cocktail of cortisol and adrenaline is changing your physiology. Seriously. Stop sucking it up—please, for the good of your health.

Hurting Your Family

Maybe you’re willing to trade quantity or quality of life to be a work machine; I guess that’s your choice. But if you aren’t ready to change something for the benefit of your own health, at least do it for the people who care about you. You’re coming home spent. It’s an empty shell of you at the dinner table. You’re skipping the second bedtime because you have to get back to your email. You’re not there for your partner because you’re still neck-deep in work. Stop sucking it up—please, for the good of your family.

Risking Your Reputation

I bet you’ve convinced yourself that saying something about your overwhelming workload would be a career-limiting move. Sure, saying, “I can’t handle this; I’m throwing in the towel,” would be an issue. But consider how taking on too much without letting anyone know is putting your reputation and career at risk. As you allow more and more on your plate, you’re probably doing lower-quality work. You’re dropping balls and inviting speculation and questions about your reliability. Stop sucking it up—please, for the good of your reputation.

Letting Down Your Teammates

Can’t bring yourself to say something about your overwhelming workload because all of the above reasons seem too selfish? Okay, I get it. But what if I told you you’re not being a great team player by carrying all the monkeys on your back? You’re actually putting your team at risk. What if one of the balls you drop is glass? What if the task you do your best on isn’t good enough and reflects poorly on a colleague? What if you burn yourself and leave a gaping hole in your team? Teams depend on transparency to foster trust. Trying to do it all while you’re slowly going under will erode that trust. Sucking it up isn’t good for your team.

Allowing the Charade to Continue

Perhaps the thing that makes me most angry about people sucking it up is that it allows leaders to continue in ignorance to abdicate their responsibility to set people up for success. When you don’t raise the alarm, the organization resets its baseline productivity based on your 50- or 60-hour week. Managers come to expect and depend on your crisis-level output without realizing how much risk there is if a real crisis happens because there’s no slack in the system. Sucking it up just allows your leaders to perpetuate the problem.

If you’re telling yourself that sucking it up and struggling through a barely manageable workload is your only option, I think you’re getting it wrong. The price is too high. In my next post, I’ll give you ten constructive things you can do instead of just sucking it up.

Additional Resources

8 Ways to Feel Less Overwhelmed by Your Workload

Enough about Workload, the Problem is Thoughtload

A Personalized Approach to Feeling Less Overwhelmed