How to Deal When Your Boss Expects You to Pick Up a Fired Employee’s Slack

Everything at work seems to be going along pretty swimmingly. You feel on top of your workload, you get along with your co-workers, and you’re generally enjoying the things you get to work on.

Then, on one unsuspecting Thursday afternoon, your boss calls you into his office. You take a seat across from him, and he drops a bomb on you. “Unfortunately, we had to let Julia go,” he says, while you stare at him slack-jawed and stunned, “But, it’s not a big deal. I assumed you can cover her work, right?”

You have no idea what to say. Julia is a co-worker who has worked alongside you in your department for years. And, now you’re not only left to worry about the security of your own job, but you also need to figure out how you’ll balance all of her tasks and responsibilities with the ones that are already on your plate.

There’s no denying that this is a tough situation to deal with. But, it happens. So, rather than bursting into tears or heading straight into a tailspin, follow these six steps to get through the situation with poise and professionalism.

1. Press Pause

It can be tempting to work yourself into a frenzy the second your boss even hints at the fact that you should take on a pile of extra work—from a colleague you liked, no less—without so much as a second glance.

However, your first step needs to be to press pause and take a deep breath. Yes, this situation is anxiety-inducing. But, getting bent out of shape really won’t do you any favors.

2. Request a List

Before walking out of your boss’ office after he nonchalantly dumped all of your colleague’s work on your plate, you need to be a little systematic. How? Ask him to provide some sort of list or roster of all of the things your co-worker was responsible for.

Did she have any big projects in the works? What tasks did she need to handle on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis? Basically, what do you now need to worry about covering?

Having a solid handle on all of the balls in the air that are going to need to fall into different hands will help you approach the following steps with a little more strategy.

3. Take a Look at Your Current Workload

Now that you’re armed with a rundown of all of your co-workers responsibilities that still need to get done, it’s time to take a cold, hard look at your own current workload. Can you realistically take on more work? And, if so, how much?

I know that you can feel a lot of pressure to be a team player, simply nod along, and agree to cover everything yourself. However, nobody can expect you to cram two jobs into one. So, use the list of your colleague’s responsibilities to decide which of those things you can add to your own plate—without stretching yourself too thin.

That way, you’ll be able to let your manager know which things you can cover—and which need to be delegated to other members of the team (or, ahem, your co-worker’s replacement).

4. Prepare Your Case

Now, it’s time to get your thoughts in order and prepare your case before heading in to have a follow-up conversation with your boss.

Create your own list of what responsibilities you’ll take on, so that your boss can see how much slack is left to pick up. However, you’ll also want to be armed with some explanations of exactly how much extra work this will be for you.

These extra duties will likely mean longer hours and more stress. So, make sure that you’re prepared to explain that to your boss in a way he can understand.

5. Talk to Your Boss

You have all of your ducks in a row, so it’s time to set up a sit-down with your boss. Send him an email asking if the two of you could talk for a half hour or so—this isn’t something you’ll want to spring on him while passing in the hallway or gathered around the break room coffee pot.

When it’s time to chat, bring in the research and groundwork you’ve already done. Simply explain to your boss that—while you’re happy to step up and help out until things get figured out—there’s no way you can take on an additional full-time job yourself.

This is when you’ll share with him which particular duties you’re willing to handle, and which should be assigned to other team members.

And, one more important thing you’ll want to discuss? Money. If you’re cringing at the very thought, I can’t blame you—money talks are always awkward. However, when you’re taking on extra responsibility, it’s more than justified to ask for some additional pay.

This is when your case about how much additional work this is will come into play. Share with your boss how much fuller this will make your plate, and then simply state that you expect a monetary boost to reflect the increase in your work and responsibilities. It’s only fair.

6. Keep a Watchful Eye

Think you’re done after that conversation with your supervisor? Not quite.

No matter how critical you were when determining which of your fired co-worker’s tasks you could take on, we all tend to be overly optimistic about how much we can get done in any given day. So, it’s important that you keep close tabs on your daily and weekly workload.

Are you feeling like you overcommitted and are scrambling just to make it through day after day? Then it might be time for another talk with your boss.

Remember, it’s up to you to keep your finger on the pulse of your career happiness and your to-do list. Don’t assume your job is done once you and your boss have settled on a transition plan—you might still need to make some changes.

Needing to cover for a co-worker who was let go is always an uncomfortable situation. However, you need to get through it as best as you can (without sacrificing yourself to your boss’s delusional assumptions). Use these six steps, and you’re sure to make it through with your sanity intact.

Kat Boogaard

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Kat is a Wisconsin-based freelance writer covering topics related to careers, self-development, and entrepreneurship. Her byline has appeared in numerous outlets and publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, QuickBooks, Business Insider, and more. Find out more about her on her website, or connect with her on Twitter.

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