Career Advice

All Your Coworkers Quitting? Here’s How To Deal When You’re the One Left Behind

Photo: Stocksy/Studio Marmellata
It’s never been more popular to quit your job than it was in 2021 (at least since 2000, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking that number). As it turns out, the still-ongoing Great Resignation isn’t a resistance to work, but more accurately, to bad work—such as jobs with minimal pay or opportunities for growth, or jobs that workers realized didn’t align with their values, newly underscored by the pandemic. While many of the job quitters became job swappers, taking on more fitting roles, the upheaval has still helped thin out teams across the board, leaving many short-staffed and overburdened.

According to a recent survey of 1,800+ workers conducted by jobs platform Monster, 61 percent say that their workplace is experiencing staffing shortages—and it’s reasonable to assume that the biggest shortages are hitting the workplaces least prepared to navigate them.

“Many companies experience mass resignations due to low pay, long hours, and unsupportive environments,” says Bridgitt Haarsgaard, founder and CEO of executive coaching platform The GAARD Group. That makes it all the tougher for the workers left behind to cope when their colleagues start to quit en masse. “If these companies then distribute additional work to the remaining employees while adhering to all of the above offensives, they risk compounding employee grievances and driving away [even more] team members.”

But if you’re on one of these short-staffed teams, leaving to find a new job may be far easier said than done. The economic uncertainty of the moment, with an increasingly likely recession looming, could make resigning now riskier than it would have been, say, a year ago, says Erin Grau, cofounder and COO at workplace wellness consultancy Charter. The result: People are being saddled with extra work just as they may feel less capable of quitting—a perfect storm for (even more) burnout, says Grau.

66 percent of employees affected by worker shortages are experiencing burnout, according to a survey conducted by Monster.

In fact, the same Monster survey above found that 66 percent of employees affected by shortages on their teams claim to be burnt out, while nearly half are suffering from anxiety, and over a third are experiencing physical symptoms of stress such as headaches and body aches. And having any of these conditions is bound to make accomplishing the work of multiple jobs that much more difficult, setting off a downward spiral.

Below, career experts share some key advice for avoiding this last-one-standing trap and figuring out how to cope with the extra workload when your colleagues quit.

How to cope when your colleagues quit and you're the one left behind

First things first: Talk with your manager

This is one time where you really don’t want to just be the hero and absorb all the work of your former coworkers—or else you’ll risk pigeonholing yourself into that role for good. “If you struggle through the situation, management may not know there’s a problem,” says Haarsgaard. “Don't let your silence set an expectation.”

Instead, Haarsgaard suggests scheduling a meeting with your manager and coming prepared to discuss how the shortage on your team is affecting your ability to meet requirements, what you’re doing to compensate, and what assistance you could use. With this information, they’ll be both aware of the issue and empowered to either help—perhaps by shifting deadlines, reprioritizing, or delegating—or advocate for a solution from higher-ups, like hiring a replacement(s) STAT, if that’s not already on the docket.

During this conversation, it’s also fair to let your manager know what you reasonably can accomplish and what you can’t, says Grau, so they can help you figure out which things actually need to be prioritized and which can wait. This way, they also won’t be hit with any rude surprises down the line when they’re expecting a deliverable from you that you knew wasn’t possible to complete on time, given the circumstances.

Organize your work to maximize efficiency

Once you’ve aligned on key priorities with your manager, it may be helpful to streamline your workflow—given there are likely still going to be a few more things on your plate than there were before (but, ideally, there will be no more hours in your workday).

“Start by breaking down each task, project, and responsibility, and putting a timeline around each one,” says Vicki Salemi, career expert at Monster. “You may want to document everything in a spreadsheet or another organizational tool to itemize everything.” This can help you create a to-do list each day and ensure you’re ticking off the things that matter most.

While you’re organizing, make a point of dropping any unnecessary fluff from the list. “Sometimes we’re so busy trying to do things the way they’ve always been done that we don’t stop to see if there are things we can do to make the system work with less effort,” says Haarsgaard. “See if you can find faster solutions to certain problems or remove unnecessary steps in particular tasks. Doing so will save you [much needed] time and energy.”

Delegate where possible

It’s typically not feasible for a single person to take on the full workload of a departing colleague, much less that of multiple quitting coworkers. So, if you find that you’re the only one really affected when several of your colleagues have quit, figuring out how to cope often comes down to delegating.

If you’re a manager, that could look like sharing some of the work with a direct report or two. And if you’re not? Consider asking your manager how you might delegate otherwise. “Look up, not just down the ladder for help,” says Haarsgaard. “And remember that you’re not responsible for solving the problem of worker shortages alone.” In a situation where the productivity of your team, as a whole, is being affected, leaders should be willing not only to help you re-delegate the work more evenly across team members and others, but also to find temporary assistance and/or step in themselves, she says.

Leverage the situation for more pay

The more people who quit on your team, the more valuable you become to your company for the ways you’re holding down the fort. Throw in a job market full of open roles, and there’s never been a better time to exercise your power as an employee by asking for a raise or promotion.

“You could say to your manager, ‘Considering X and Y person’s full-time salaries are now not part of the payroll, and it could take a while to replace them, I wanted to see how I might be compensated for the additional work I’m doing,’” says Salemi. Even if the hiring process is active for their replacements, the truth is, those folks won’t hit the ground running from day one, she adds. “Make your case as to why you should earn more during this interim period, and how you’ll be effectively anchoring the department even after new people are hired.”

That might seem forward at first glance, but most employers know that keeping an employee is less costly than finding and training a new one, says Haarsgaard. So, if they think that you’ll leave without a raise or promotion, they may be all the more inclined to hand it over in a short-staffed environment. And if you suspect that a higher salary is really not an option at the moment, be prepared to negotiate other things, Salemi suggests, like flexible hours, the ability to work from home (or do so more often), or other financial awards, like a bonus.

If you're onboarding new employees, optimize that process

Part of learning how to cope when a bunch of colleagues quit may also be dealing with an onslaught of onboarding. After all, once their replacements get hired, you’ll have the task of getting them up and running, which can feel like a whole other job on top of everything else you're doing.

But, taking the time up-front to do it well is really worth it. “Effective onboarding leads to long-term success of the team and enables the new employee to add value sooner,” says Grau, “so if you and your team are onboarding multiple people in the coming weeks or months, spend time creating a clear onboarding program with training materials.”

That could look like making an online tutorial or writing up a document with key procedures that are universal for anyone on your team, so that you aren’t constantly repeating information, says Salemi. A basic FAQ document could be helpful, as well, so you can point new folks to it and avoid having to answer the same questions again and again.

In the first few days of a new team member’s onboarding, also be sure to respond quickly to requests for assistance, so that they build momentum from the jump and stay engaged, says Haarsgaard. And if your company offers any training on platforms or programs that may be useful to the new employee in the future, point them toward it during onboarding, too, so they can pick up those skills early and be ready to use them when the time comes.

Loading More Posts...