Data Management

Strategies for dealing with extra work due to layoffs

When an already overworked IT manager is faced with picking up the slack from layoffs, he learns some tricks that make the heavier load bearable. Here are some strategies you can employ to lighten your workload in troubled times.

Steve G., an IT manager at a leading scientific publisher based in New Jersey, who requested anonymity, was already working 60-hour work weeks with lots of on-call time on top of those hours when he found out that his staff of 12 had been whittled down to eight. The extra work was handed out to all the remaining employees, including Steve G.

“They got rid of a great database admin,” Steve G. said, “and since they knew I had experience in that area, they simply expected me to take on his job, but still handle mine. I was afraid I’d have to move a bed in to keep all the hours required.”

With the cutbacks, Steve G. had been tapped to patch up database snafus in addition to his fulltime management responsibilities. This was a huge task for the publishing company because it had a legacy library of tens of thousands of books, magazines, and journals.

“At one point, I was just crushed by the multitasking, and my bosses seemed oblivious,” Steve G. said.

Steve G.’s plight isn’t an isolated event. A benchmark PriceWaterhouseCoopers study revealed that feelings of overwork are pervasive in the U.S. workforce. A whopping 54 percent of employees feel overworked today, 55 percent feel overwhelmed, and 59 percent said they don’t have time to step back and process or reflect on the work they actually do.

Management has its hands tied
In response to the situation, Steve G. took the action that most of us would take—he went to the CTO and cried foul. He asked for help, any kind of help—temp workers, freelancers, an outsourcing budget. While understandable, Steve G’s response wasn’t the best approach for the situation, according to Nick Corcodilos, president of North Bridge Group and a management recruitment and career consultant for Fortune 50 companies.

“With today’s economy, for an IT manager to go in and say ‘you got to give me more help!’ is self-defeating,” Corcodilos explained. “You’re taking a risk, because upper management has already carefully worked through the budgetary and manpower issues, and they simply have no choice but to make the cold-hearted decision to give more work to the people who are sticking around.”

When his requests for help went unanswered, Steve G. went about the business of “doing more with less,” the new mantra for today’s IT managers and workers alike. The experience has taught him some new lessons as well.

“Since the cutbacks, I’ve been putting in nearly 70 hours a week, but I learned something. I learned how to pace myself. I take breaks when I need them, shut the beeper off, even just go outside and take a walk when I’m getting too crazy,” he said. Corcodilos agreed that time management is a critical tool during such crisis periods.

“There’s basic stuff anybody in IT ought to be looking at [to help deal with the extra work]. The simple things are turning off IM and eliminating certain kinds of meetings you know in your heart you really don’t have to have,” Corcodilos said.

Getting some payback
With the extra tasks being heaped upon him, Steve G. did have some leverage to ask for some form of payback from the company if you consider that many corporate executives are very concerned about excessive overwork by IT employees. These executives are willing to take steps to address the issue to avoid negative ramifications on morale.

For Steve G., that empathetic attitude translated into more flexible work hours; allowing the IT staff to work from home more often (and providing them with the equipment to do so), and looking the other way when lunch hours go long.

The work environment is “more productive now,” said Steve G. “With less meetings, less commute time, and less micromanagement going on over our shoulders we can actually get some real work done.”

Steve G. isn’t alone in that regard either. TechRepublic member Kevj explained how he leveraged his recently added responsibilities to gain a few perks for himself.

“Money is tight at my company but at my last review, I asked for an exterior office with windows, and I got it.” Kevj added, “I think that anything that doesn’t cost the company money, or very little, will fly. Try for a better work space, more vacation time, or a better title.”

Getting help from the inside
Leveraging heavier workloads into benefits like flex time and a new office location is the traditional way of getting a payback on extra time and effort. But career expert Corcodilos said there is a compelling alternative that can provide IT managers with help for themselves and their staffs by looking for assistance in other internal organization departments.

“You’re the IT manager and you don’t have any resources, but the one thing you have is work that certain other people in the company would love to do, as a way to get in the door to your department,” Corcodilos explained.

He suggests sending the word out over the company grapevine that you need help in an effort to build an ad hoc group of volunteers.

“It’s sort of like building a little ‘skunkworks,’” said Corcodilos, “one where you’re offering, or at least promising, some form of advancement down the road for the people who are willing to devote a little of their extra time to help you get your own work done.” That form of advancement may be giving them the opportunity to move into the department if an opening occurs, or making sure their managers are aware that they are helping out the IT department in their free- or downtime.

While Corcodilos acknowledged that IT managers will have to oversee these workers more carefully than they would a staff hire, it’s well worth the investment.

“When resources are lacking, you got to ask yourself how you can reward people when you don’t have any money,” said Corcodilos. “All you can basically do is to provide them with some skills and an opportunity to improve their credentials in an area they’re interested in.”

When leveraging doesn’t work
If for whatever reason a ‘skunkworks’ approach won’t work, and there’s no leveraging the extra responsibilities for any kind of special benefit or compensation, Corcodilos suggested a very traditional way to manage the heavy workload.

“Go to [upper management] and say ‘part of my job is to tell you the truth, even if it hurts, so I want to sit down with you and prioritize the tasks that absolutely have to get done.’” In this approach, the IT manager is also able to make it crystal clear about what can’t or won’t get done due to the staff and time restraints.

“This way,” Corcodilos said, “you’re not skipping over tasks and then letting management find out about them later and have them pissed off at you. Rather, you’re bringing them into the process from the start.”

Corcodilos believes that a reasonable manager will give the IT manager a supportive response, such as, ”OK, you’re right, let’s work through this, and cover our backsides while we try to get the work done.”

Yet, he also notes some managers won’t like having the conversation. “They’re going to say, ‘Look, just grunt it out; you’ve got to do all of it,’” he said. “If you’re stuck with that type of manager, you’d better start looking for another job anyway because they’ll burn you out.”

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