How to Delegate Even When Employees Are Swamped

I often have clients who are new to leadership positions. One of the things they struggle with is assigning work to their staff even when they know that they are really busy, even overwhelmed. They feel badly.  They care about their employees and it’s disconcerting to know that they are under stress.

They apologize while handing over the work. They feel like they are adding to the stress of their employee. The focus as they assign work is really on themselves and how they feel, not on the work and actually not on the employee.  They are unconsciously trying to ease their own discomfort. Often they just do the work themselves which is not sustainable nor wise.

The unseen result is that the employee is left feeling disempowered by the apology. They may perceive your care as a lack of confidence in them to do the job and they may perceive your leadership as wishy-washy and lacking in self-assuredness.

Now there are a couple of things going on here.  I’m not going to address the larger issue of what is causing the overwhelm as that is more of a systemic problem (for another post). 


If you find yourself in a similar situation, I’d like to suggest a strategy that will help you assign work with confidence while empowering your staff.

1. Go to the “It” not the person.  What is the reality of the situation?  The reality is about work that must be done and best done by that specific individual.  You cannot look at the situation from what you would like it to be, wishing that you wouldn’t add to the pile of work and their stress.

Once you acknowledge the reality ask yourself how you can get “It” done AND take care of your team and others.  Hold these as inclusive not exclusive of one another.  By setting up a polarity “Either I take care of them or I take care of me” you will miss the opportunity to truly empower them and you will exhaust yourself.  You can do both.   

2. Use this template:

First acknowledge the situation: “I understand that you are swamped”  

Then go to the IT - “...AND I need to give you this assignment”

Then empower the other person by reflecting back their strength not their weakness “...AND I know you are fully capable of doing this.  

Then show care, "Let me know what assistance I can get for you.”

By delegating work in this manner, you lead with assertiveness and confidence and you empower your employees with the faith in them that they are capable of meeting the challenge.