It happens all too often. A team member leaves the company—voluntarily or not—and all the work they were responsible for is left behind, awaiting a new owner.
That new owner is you, except you’re already pretty swamped with your own to-do list.
What can you do to make your situation more bearable? How can you approach your boss with this conundrum without screaming, “You’re killin’ me smalls!”
Get All the Facts
You have the right to transparency, especially since this team change is directly affecting you. So, before you make any rash decisions or come to any sweeping conclusions, make sure you gather everything you can on what happened.
“The best thing to start with is to make sure you have all the information and facts,” says Board Certified Leadership and Career Strategy Coach Valerie McMurray, who’s encountered this problem numerous times while working with various companies. “Why is this situation happening? Is it permanent or is it going to be resolved? Then decide your course of action from there.”
Hopefully, if your boss is honest with you, you can get a better sense of how long you’ll be taking on these responsibilities, how much you’ll be taking on, and how much others will. You also want to understand how this affects your long-term goals and strategy. Will bigger changes be made to your team’s priorities? What’s the plan for hiring for this position or others?
Asking questions can immediately give you some direction in how you proceed.
Consider the Upsides
“Think about it strategically for your own career,” suggests McMurray. “How could this grow and develop my career? How can I position myself to benefit from this and take advantage of it?”
The downside to someone leaving is that you have more work to do than usual. But the upside is that you’re given the chance to take on projects and responsibilities that weren’t necessarily available to you before. This is your time to shine—both in your boss’ eyes and by building new skills and relationships.
The key is to leverage this both in the moment and for the future. Not only should you take note of the work you want to take on—and voice that to your manager—but “you want to keep a log of all the extra stuff you’re doing that’s not in your job description…and how it’s helping the team and company,” says McMurray. Have that running list ready for your next performance review so you can make a strong case for a raise or promotion. (This weekly worksheet can help you easily keep your accomplishments organized.)
Record All Your Responsibilities and Approach Your Boss
Of course, even with the added benefit of taking on more challenging projects doing your work and someone else’s is a big ask. And for many, it’s a seemingly impossible task. After all, everyone has one job for a reason.
So, you’ll want to approach your boss to hash out a plan so you’re not staying at the office until midnight every day.
First, advises McMurray, “make a list of everything you’re responsible for—actually put it in writing.” This will help you organize your thoughts and come to your boss with something concrete to discuss. Your boss may not know everything you do, and so they may not have even considered your workload when throwing all these new assignments your way.
“Managers don’t keep track of this stuff a lot of times,” she adds. “And so it’s your responsibility as the employee and the responsible person for your career to make sure you have things documented and you’re pointing it out to people. Because they’re not going to do it.”
When you go to your manager, “ask them to prioritize what they want you to do,” says McMurray. Don’t just show them your list and say you don’t know what to do—be proactive and ask them to specify exactly what needs to get done and when. You might be surprised to find your manager doesn’t see half the things on your list as urgent. Knowing this, you can better organize your to-dos, both the new work and the old.
Finally, ask your boss if any work is worth delegating to other teammates. If so, sit down with your colleagues and see if they’d be willing to help you out by taking on some extra assignments. (Here’s how to make the ask.)
Having to pick up the slack when someone leaves can be stressful, but like McMurray says, it’s up to you to take the initiative in getting a handle on your workload. Talking to your boss and colleagues can do wonders, but if you need more help, try out these productivity tips here and here.
It’s also OK if you don’t see any upside to this new responsibility.
“Decide what’s best for you—is this sustainable for you if it’s going to be long-term, or not?” adds McMurray. If you’ve looked at the situation from all sides and it doesn’t look pretty—maybe you’re being thrown a lot of busy work and your company isn’t planning on hiring someone anytime soon—consider your other options and be ready for that conversation. This is when having an updated resume and LinkedIn profile comes in handy, should you decide to move on.
Ultimately, you’ve found yourself in a place that you didn’t plan on being in, as you will a lot in your career. You can use this time to grow and learn, or you can use it as a jumping off point for the next step in your career. Neither is a bad choice.
Photo of person working hard at desk courtesy of JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images.
Previously an editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. She’s written almost 500 articles for The Muse on anything from productivity tips to cover letters to bad bosses to cool career changers, many of which have been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., CNBC's Make It, USA Today College, Lifehacker, Mashable, and more. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer and reader, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author