My Colleague is Gone and My Workload Has Doubled

A co-worker was laid off, and I’ve been tasked with all of her duties. I used to get all of my work done—staying late one, maybe two nights a week. Now I’m staying late every night.

Q: A co-worker was laid off, and I’ve been tasked with all of her duties. I used to get all of my work done—staying late one, maybe two nights a week. Now I’m staying late every night, and with all of the added work and meetings I need to be in, I feel like I can’t catch up. It’s starting to make me miserable. I’m glad I’m still here, but it almost feels like they’re trying to drive me away. What can I do?

I think your situation is becoming more common. As companies downsize, the employees who stay behind are often expected to do more. As with all things new, it can take time to adjust and find your own rhythm. I’ve highlighted some strategies below which I think can help.

Do speak to your manager.

I would certainly speak to your manager for the purposes of reviewing your new combined role. Every now and then it may be appropriate to work longer hours, but I agree working late each day is not sustainable. Look at this as an opportunity though to carve out projects you really want to work on. Perhaps your former colleague was working on some ideas or campaigns you find interesting. This could be an opportunity to learn some new skills.

Speak to your manager about the extra hours. As crazy as it sounds, perhaps she/he isn’t fully aware of the impact of this additional workload. Managers get busy, and if you’re not complaining, they may think you’re OK with the new workload. Be proactive and put together a new list of targets and deliverables for the year ahead. Come up with a solution that’s workable for both sides.

The art of delegation.

There’s an old saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.” With this in mind, it sounds like you are demonstrating to your bosses that you are able to do the work of two people. It’s just that your strategy to achieve this has been to extend your workday, and as you say, this is not sustainable.

Take a look at your to-do list for the day, week and month ahead and decide what you can delegate. You may be able to get an intern, or hire an assistant to help you. Authors Claire Shipman and Katy Kay recommend some useful strategies in their book Womenomics. They say to assume control of your schedule—which includes scheduling meetings, phone calls and work assignments for the times that suit you. Be the first to offer a deadline for projects, and don’t be rushed into giving a timeline immediately. And don’t be always readily available. You need some uninterrupted time to get your work done, particularly with an increased workload.

Work smarter not harder.

It can be hard to keep a focus on your work, particularly with constant interruptions of telephone, answering email, colleagues stopping by with questions and multiple meetings. Given your increased workload, try to reduce the number of meetings you attend. I’ve found many meetings over the years to be a big drain on time and often unproductive. Depending on the type of job you do, you might also reduce the number of times you check your email, allow the phone to go to voicemail or have someone take a message.

Another strategy: Think about getting to the office earlier before people start to arrive and the phones start to ring. Many of my clients have found arriving one hour earlier to be more productive than staying two hours late at the end of the workday. There can be less interruptions.

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