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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Overworked and Stressed Out

Dear Sue: I am the manager of a small business. The owners have three other offices and a manufacturing facility, so they rarely come to this office. The only other employee at this office is an outside salesperson. He is the one who hired me, and earlier this year helped me get a substantial raise.

The problem is that I rarely see him, and although he takes care of his main customer and the occasional delivery we have, most of the time he is unavailable. He keeps his cell phone turned off, which makes it impossible for his customers to reach him, and he relies on me to handle everything else.

The last manager who was in my position tried to tell the owners what was going on, but I think that is what lead to his termination. The salesman has a strong relationship with his boss, who is one of the owners of the company. I know that they would not fire him if I said anything and it would probably make my work here unbearable.

I’ve worked here for two and a half years, and have worked in this industry much longer. Jobs are scarce, so if I left, I don’t know where I would go. The problem is that my work load is so heavy that I am becoming more and more stressed out. Should I blow the whistle and see what happens or stay here and endure the stress?

- Stressed

Sue Says: If your stress is your biggest concern, I doubt you will get rid of it by blowing the whistle; you likely will add even more stress to an already stressful situation. This is not to say you shouldn’t do something about your situation, because you should. I’m just not convinced you have only two options.

What is your relationship like with the salesperson? I assume it can’t be too bad—after all, he has shown his support for you and appears to appreciate the work you do. He is the one who recently helped you get a substantial raise, isn’t he? So why then, do you assume you can’t talk to him and tell him that you need help with your heavy workload?

I am sure you have your reasons for believing the salesperson is not working to his capacity, but I am not sure what they are. Do you have a clear understanding of both his, and your, responsibilities? Do you know how much time he spends tending to his “main” customer? Do you keep track of his daily schedule?

Perhaps you need to concern yourself less with what he is or isn’t doing, and become clearer about your priorities or job duties. Is a big part of your job to support him or are your responsibilities to the owners and other aspects of the business? If you find that you are doing work that is his responsibility, not yours, you need to talk to him about it, not the owners. If he refuses to listen or take responsibility for himself, you may have no choice but to involve the owners, but don’t do it until you first try to work things out with him.

If you have more work than you can handle for reasons that have nothing to do with the salesperson, talk with your supervisor, an owner or whoever you report to. Perhaps he or she can help you; a discussion can help clarify what your top priorities and focus should be.

You don’t need to “blow the whistle” on anyone. When you talk about your challenges, and where your time is going each day, if too much of it is spent supporting the salesperson, it will be apparent to your supervisor.

Deal with your problem, which is an increasingly heavy workload that is becoming more and more difficult to manage. Be solution, not problem oriented. What questions do you need answered? What suggestions do you have for improving the situation?

When you take matters into your own hands, you will help yourself, and ultimately, deal with your stress more effectively.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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