At least in the reflection there are two of me... now maybe we can both get all this work done.
By: Dr. Frank Benest, ICMA Senior Advisor for Next Generation Initiatives
In this issue of Career Compass, Dr. Benest reviews some steps you can take to handle additional work that's landed on your desk
during periods of economic belt-tightening.
I work as one of two purchasing agents in the Finance Department of a medium-sized city. I have enjoyed my position and am
committed to the organization. However, as part of recent budget cuts, the Finance Director has eliminated one of the purchasing
agent positions and now I am doing the work of two people. Expectations have not diminished; I feel that I am always behind and
I am stressed to the max. They've oversized my job. What can I do?
With several straight years of budget and staffing cuts, most local government employees have taken on more work. Our jobs are
much more demanding and we all feel stressed. However, I can suggest a few approaches to make your situation more tolerable, or
better yet, to use the situation to your career advantage.
Before I explore potential strategies, you must understand that you are in a position of strength as you take on additional
work. Management cannot get the work completed with fewer resources without skilled and committed people like you. Therefore,
you need to leverage this opportunity.
STRATEGY 1: IDENTIFY PRIORITIES
As a first step, you should meet with your manager, acknowledge together that your workload has dramatically increased, and
mutually agree on some priority projects or assignments. It is also important that you discuss these priorities with the
departments that you serve and your larger Finance Department team. Based on these discussions, you and your manager may decide
on tweaking the priorities.
STRATEGY 2: NEGOTIATE TIMELINES
In conjunction with your manager and your customer departments, it is imperative that you negotiate and agree upon some
realistic timelines for both priority and non-priority assignments.
STRATEGY 3: REDESIGN THE SERVICE
Since management has oversized your job, the same service delivery with fewer staffing resources may be untenable, so you need
to redesign how you do the job. For instance, is some self-service a realistic option? With some training and technical support,
can smaller purchases or contracts be handled by the staff in the customer departments? Can the departments handle several steps
in the process? Can you and the departments eliminate a few steps and streamline the process to make some self-service a viable
STRATEGY 4: SECURE ADDITIONAL ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT AND COACHING
In the discussions with your manager, you should request more administrative support from other Finance Department staff in
order to handle some of your lower-level tasks. It is also legitimate to request coaching for any challenging tasks or
STRATEGY 5: SUBTRACT
As you add more work to your plate, you have the opportunity to take some work off as well. When you review your additional
assignments with your boss, you should come prepared to discuss what you can subtract or shift to someone else, especially if
the delegated assignment is a development opportunity for the other person. Delegating may include some reporting or other
administrative work. Subtracting could focus on ritualistic non-value-added work that can be totally eliminated.
STRATEGY 6: ADD
To complement your subtraction efforts, you may seek ways to add. Could you add resources from another department, a part-time
employee, an intern or even a volunteer?
STRATEGY 7: KNOW YOUR LIMITS
Once you have explored priorities, reasonable timelines, opportunities to redesign the work, subtracting work and adding
resources, you must identify your limits and stand firm on what you can accomplish and what you cannot. Of course, you want to
help your agency and support other team members as much as possible in dire times. However, you have a responsibility to
yourself and to others to insist on a do-able workload. You are not doing anyone a favor if you are overwhelmed and therefore
ineffectual. Assert yourself!
STRATEGY 8: NEGOTIATE MORE CONTROL OVER YOUR WORK
While you may wish some assistance in one area or another, including help from your boss, you may also relish less
over-the-shoulder supervision. If so, you can agree with your boss when it is reasonable to check in and report progress and any
problems, but basically you can handle your job without daily or weekly supervision. In other words, you can use the oversizing
situation to create less reporting and more freedom in how you do your job.
STRATEGY 9: SECURE HIGHER-LEVEL ASSIGNMENTS OR MORE ENJOYABLE TASKS
Amid all the new work, you need to identify some higher-level "stretch" assignments that would provide new experiences, promote
learning and new skills, and create new relationships. As you accept more tasks, you must ensure that a few are developmental
opportunities. Likewise, you can negotiate a few more enjoyable tasks to be included in your expanded portfolio.
STRATEGY 10: NEGOTIATE SOME KEY BENEFITS
After acknowledging with your manager that the organization is making many more demands on you and significantly increasing your
workload, you can legitimately negotiate some important benefits. For instance, how about a better working title that would help
you secure a higher-level position in the future? Or, after you have demonstrated that you have risen to the challenge, how
about negotiating a promotion? The organization is still saving a substantial amount of money by eliminating the other
purchasing agent position even after giving you a raise. Another option is negotiating a flex schedule or working from home one
day per week where you can do more work in an uninterrupted environment. At the very least, you should indicate that you would
like some more visibility in the organization as you seek advancement. You may agree with your boss that you will make some
presentations to the City Council or Department Head team or serve on a high-visibility taskforce representing the Finance
Whatever agreements you make with your boss or others, it is a good idea to make them as explicit as possible and put them in
Take Care of Yourself
As you undergo more stress, you need to care of yourself.
- Eat well
- Exercise on a regular basis
- Take a weight control class
- Walk at mid-day or after work
- Take a yoga or meditation class
- Avoid self-medication though drinking or drugs
- Get adequate sleep
- Don't neglect your hobbies or friends
- Avoid isolation; connect with others
- Have a good laugh and blow off steam with coworkers (for example, joke about whose jobs got oversized the most).
To get some advice or guidance on employer-sponsored wellness programs, you can visit your HR Department. Your agency might also
provide an Employee Assistance Program that can identify available wellness programs. Your health care provider is another
source of prevention and wellness resources.
Use Your Leverage
Again, if your local government agency is oversizing your job, you have leverage. You should neither over-reach ("I want a
promotion and more money or I won't take on the additional work") nor underestimate the opportunity. You can use your legitimate
leverage in negotiating priorities, timelines, administrative support, coaching, and learning and development opportunities as
well as other benefits.
Career Compass is a monthly column from ICMA focused on career issues for local government professional staff, and
appears in ICMA's JOB newsletter and online. Dr. Frank Benest is ICMA's
senior advisor for Next Generation Initiatives and resides in Palo Alto, California. If you have a career question you would
like addressed in a future Career Compass, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Frank
directly at email@example.com.
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