when your coworker leaves and your workload doubles

Imagine you’re swamped and in the middle of preparing to leave on vacation.  Then, suddenly in walks your trusted coworker who’s going to be filling in for you while you’re out.  He sits down and discloses…

I’ve got another job opportunity.

You respond with a congratulations, then a forced smile.

Then the LC shock (“lost coworker” shock) starts to set-in. Things were working out great, and you’ve always had each others back no matter what. You hoped it’d last forever…or at least until you moved on.  Then he had to go and screw it up by finding another job.

How could he leave?  How could he do this to you?  The resentment and anger begin to seep-in.    Then, you realize the harsh reality…

Your workload is going to double.


Time to rethink this.

The Usual Solution Leads to Job Burnout

My client, Patricia,  (I’m protecting her identity by not sharing her last name) works for a Fortune 1000 company and recently faced this situation.  Her coworker of 6 years left the team and suddenly her workload doubled literally overnight.  She’s been mourning the good ole’ days ever since.

She depended on him to share the workload, back her up when she was out on vacation, and even hit the occasional happy hour to blow off off some steam.  Now that he’s gone, she’s feeling a bit left behind  and overwhelmed by the work load.

The toughest pill to swallow though is that he’s been gone for over 3 months and hasn’t been replaced. Her boss asked her to “be a team player”and take on the extra workload temporarily. At first, she did so willingly but now it seems like everyone is content with the way things are…accept for her.  She’s stressing and loosing sleep like never before.

She’s defaulted to the solution that most people do….suck it up and work harder and longer.

This strategy is a recipe for burnout.

There’s a better way.

A Better Solution than Quitting

She considered quitting, but now she’s decided to stay and make things better.  Besides, it’s not like this same situation couldn’t happen somewhere else.

As her coach, Patricia and I worked together to make a few tweaks to her work day.  It’s just been a few weeks and she’s already feeling more motivated about heading into work.  She’s even sleeping better now on Sunday nights…which gets her week started off on a much better foot.

5 Survival Tips when Your Coworker Leaves and Your Workload Doubles

Here are the five of the survival tips that have helped Patricia improve her work day.  You can use them to improve your own and share them with a colleague who needs a lift.

#1 Stop “should’ing on yourself”

Notice when the voice in your head says “I should be handling this better” or “I should have this already worked this out”. Then make a conscious decision to show yourself some compassion.  Patricia was  “should’ing all over herself and using it to beat herself up. By noticing the voice, she began to have more patience.  She recognized that when a team member leaves it’s often going to be disruptive and it can take some time to work though this.

#2 Do the 1BT

Clarify and prioritize the “1 Big Thing” or your biggest priority on your to-do list.

Start by getting clear on what your 1BT is for the day by asking yourself:

What would make my work day worthwhile if I got just this 1 thing done?

This question has helped me immensely over the years when I’m feeling overwhelmed. It’s also gave Patrica a greater sense of control and satisfaction.  Next, get your 1BT done as early as you can.  This helps you start your day with a sense of purpose and helps you build momentum to face a heavy workload.

Make a reminder for yourself by writing “1BT” on a post-it note and putting it on your computer screen to remind yourself to try this exercise daily.

#3 Bookend your work day

When your workload doubles, you can literally work non-stop and still not complete everything.  It’s tempting to work until you’re exhausted, but it’s better to pace yourself recognizing that corporate life is more a marathon than a sprint.

“Bookend” your work day (like bookends on a shelf) but putting a hard start and stop time.   Being a salaried employee doesn’t mean you have to work around the clock.  Clarify work hour expectations with your boss and set a specific time for work and non-work hours.  Amp up this exercise by asking your boss and coworkers to hold you accountable.  By sticking to this, you’ll give yourself my down time to recharge.  This change helped Patricia feel a lot less tired at the end the day and helped her start her morning with a lot more energy and focus.

#4 Introduce a new conversation

When you’re forecasting that more work is heading your way, proactively schedule a few minutes with your boss. Use it as an opportunity to discuss your own workload as well as how you  address their priorities as well as those of the organization.  Although Patricia never discussed her own workload with her boss in the past, this new conversation reduced a lot of friction and laid the ground work for experiencing more success. Afterwards she felt more in sync with her team and boss and rested easier knowing that she was getting the most important work completed.

#5 Curate your coworkers

Wouldn’t you like to choose who you work with?  Volunteer to get involved or even lead the interview process for your coworkers replacement.  This could also be a great opportunity to modify your own job description to make it a more satisfying fit for you.

Although they still haven’t replaced Patricia’s coworker yet,  she’s engaged in the interview process and experiencing less frustration and more enthusiasm for what the future holds.

So what’s your story of a coworker leaving and the impact on your workload?  How did you handle it?  Please leave in the comment below.


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