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How Admins Can Survive Layoff Overload

How Admins Can Survive Layoff Overload

It’s no secret admins often bear the brunt of layoffs. With fewer support staffers in the building, admins often have to do their regular jobs plus responsibilities formerly handled by recently departed colleagues. That makes a stressful work environment even more challenging. But with a deliberate plan, you can thrive -- here’s how.

Focus on the Positive

“Stay focused, and stay positive,” advises Heather Mayfield, vice president of branch sales and operations for Snelling in Dallas. Having a negative attitude, talking negatively to coworkers about layoffs and ignoring extra work you’ve been assigned are not good strategies.

Easier said than done, of course, since, as Mayfield points out, fighting the negativity can be as much of a job as the growing workload -- and some days twice as draining. Her advice: “One thing to consider personally or to ask nagging coworkers is, ‘If you were unemployed and looking for a job in today’s market, would you take the one you are being asked to do today?’ Sometimes we just need a little perspective.”

And if you still need to vent? “Do yourself a favor and pick someone outside your company,” Mayfield suggests.

Understand Expectations

If you’re asked to assume new responsibilities, make sure you know exactly what’s expected. “Ask your supervisor for detailed job descriptions of laid-off coworkers whose responsibilities you are now expected to shoulder,” says Onzelo Markum III, CEO of The Markum Group LLC, a Houston-based change management and leadership development consultancy.

Set up a meeting to review the new tasks and receive guidance on priorities. “Use simple, succinct language, like, ‘There are five tasks that I now have to do in addition to the four I already have on my plate; just so we are both clear as we move forward, what can I stop doing, or what is the new priority order of the new combined task list so my effort is aligned with the new vision?’” Markum says. “This will help you get alignment from your supervisor on what the priorities of the new reality are.”

Stay Organized and Manage Your Time

The most important way to do more is to schedule and organize your day. Work with to-do lists. Delegate if possible. Consider only checking email certain times of day instead of every time a new email pops up. “Complete a task before moving onto a new one,” says Emily Allen, communications specialist for the International Association of Administrative Professionals. “That way, you’ll have more of a feeling of accomplishment. Saving small amounts of time here and there add up.”

And determine which priority is the most important -- it may not be the most time-sensitive assignment. “Don’t allow urgency to overcome importance when sorting out which tasks to complete,” Allen says.

Ask for Help

Thinking you must manage the workload alone feels scary and overwhelming -- and it’s not productive. “Now more than ever, collaborating with colleagues to find efficiencies, framing choices and lending support will help you keep sane and make a constructive contribution to business results,” says Maren Showkeir, coauthor of Authentic Conversations: Moving from Manipulation to Truth and Commitment. “Conversations that focus on the difficult issues and ways to resolve them together will keep you out of the isolation booth and demonstrate your value as an employee who doesn’t just kvetch about problems but works with others to find solutions.”

This is also a good time to show off your leadership skills. “Consider arranging a weekly sack lunch session to share what challenges are occurring and utilize everyone’s strengths,” says Mayfield.

The key to talking to your boss about the workload isn’t to complain about being overworked and stressed out. “Frame it as a company concern, such as, ‘I am leading the project team for Stanley’s account and am responsible to finish and proof the annual reports. I want to do justice to both, but they have competing deadlines. I want to give both projects my complete attention. Do you have any suggestions?’” Allen says. “This way, you’re expressing that your main concern is the company and doing a good job, not your workload.”

In the end, remember: Making the most of your new situation can be an opportunity to showcase your value. “Use this as your time to shine,” Allen says. “I know it can be overwhelming, but by showing your boss you can step up and take on new responsibilities, you show yourself to be a team player and an essential part of the office.”

For more information and tips to help you advance your administrative career, see all our advice for admin professionals.

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