Reorganizing the 'Ghost Work'

Susan Hall

A few years ago, a co-worker came back from days off to a rash of organizational changes that had been announced while he was away. Once it was all explained to him, he candidly asked: "Is this just one of those things we're supposed to pretend we like?"


In a word, yes.


With the rampant layoffs going on these days, this is no time to be a whiner, according to Paul Facella, president and CEO of consultant firm Inside Management, and author of the book, "Everything I Know about Business I Learned at McDonald's." But that doesn't mean you can actually do the work of three people, either.



So that means it's time to have a meeting with your boss about how to deal with the ghost work-the work the laid-off employees used to do.


Facella calls these conversations "a delicate balance," adding that laying people off is incredibly stressful for managers, too.


But as Cissy Pau, principal consultant for Clear HR Consulting,<strong>recently told IT Business Edge's Ann All</strong>, layoffs have to go hand-in-hand with a reorganization of the work.


Facella believes bosses aren't always privy to all the work their employees do. That's why he advises going in prepared to show in extreme detail how you spend your time. Break down the time spent on various tasks, daily, weekly and monthly. If you're being given another bucket of work to add in, where will it fit?


"In a very open, collaborative approach, I would say, Where would you like for me to prioritize this? I may have to give some stuff up in order to take this on. What's important?' Facella said.


"It becomes apparent that Wow, this is a lot of work.' Or Maybe I haven't thought it through. Maybe we should stop doing this in order to do that.' That usually ensures a pretty good conversation."


And with those bosses who use the cliche, "Don't work harder, work smarter," Facella says you have to put that back on the manager.


"I think you have to be very careful how you say this, not to be flip, but simply say, "What would you like for me to do? Would you like me to stop taking calls? I can do that. Can someone else handle all the interruptions while I focus on the work? I can do that.'"


You might have to commit to more hours at some point, but if you have to pick up your kids at 5 p.m. or have other obligations, offer to take work home, come in Saturday morning or find some alternative that works for both of you, he said. At the same time, neither of you comes out ahead if you work so much that you get sick.


Even if you're being asked to take on new tasks and you don't have the skills, it's important to be positive about it, he said. You might come away from the experience with new skills you really like.


"I would confront my boss and say, I'm more than willing to take that on, but you do understand I've never done that. Can I get somebody to mentor me on that or can I go take a quick course in that?' Let them know up front you're going to do your best and you're not even afraid to take it on, but it's your first shot at it," he said.


The experts interviewed for this Computerworld piece advocate going outside your comfort zone and even volunteering for projects.


According to that article, you want to be seen as someone who can forge ties and collaboration as departments are merged and responsibilities shift. Plus, you want to be someone who adds energy to the effort, rather than a person who saps every one else's.


And if you can point out inefficiencies or redundancies in the work or show how your employer can save money, that wins points, too, Facella says.

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