A Co-Worker Is Absent. What Do You Do?


Now let’s be honest shall we? This question of what to do as a response can be looked at and answered with a few possible approaches. You might be thinking to yourself that what you SHOULD do and what you’ll ACTUALLY do are two very different things. If you and I were sitting across from each other in a job interview and I posed the question to you, no doubt you’d voice the reply that falls in line with the former, not the latter.

Then again the answer to this question might depend on whether the absence of a co-worker has any immediate impact on your job responsibilities. It could be that when someone on the team or shift is away, there’s no impact on anyone’s job duties. With a neutral impact, you might just be entirely unaffected; no increased calls, no extra customers to contact, no extra work or extra benefits coming your way.

Far from a negative thing, it could be that you’re on commission, and one less co-worker is one less person getting in the way of your potential earnings. An absent co-worker is a good thing, and that dream vacation you’ve been working extra time to realize just got a little closer. You not only thrive in their absence, you relish the possibility that you’ll find yourself in the same situation tomorrow!

However, in many environments, the absence of one person on the team has an impact on those employees who did make it in to work; the impact is often more work to be spread out, increased pressure to pitch in and contribute, etc. What you had planned to do for the day isn’t going to happen the way you’d envisioned it. Upper management has possibly come around to make sure everybody is well aware of the absent employee; the speech about teamwork, the slap-on-the-back, ‘all for one and one for all’ with a hearty, “I know I can count on you all” sermon said, they return to their offices thankful that they are one step removed from the front line.

There’s the co-worker who responds by immediately checking the absent employees schedule, and calls all their appointments to cancel as fast as possible. This way, they won’t be called upon to see clients and customers they don’t know. It may not be the best customer service, but hey, it’s a dog-eat-dog world right? I mean you fend for yourself and let the fallout – if there even is any – happen down the road.

It’s not all bad though. No, there’s the overly helpful ones; you know, the man or woman who says to themselves, ‘I’d want someone to do what they could in my absence so sure I’ll pitch in and do my share to the extent I can.’ They do so much in fact that their own work takes a back seat. Slackers love having these people on their team. They just seem so easy to take advantage of having that good nature imbedded in their DNA. If the slacker plays their cards right and isn’t too overt in how they seem to do things when they really don’t, they could get that do-gooder to cover for them in return for doing next to nothing to help out at these times for years.

The accountable ones…now these people are the ones that use solid reasoning to decide what they can offer without sacrificing their own schedules unduly. After all, a customer is a customer no matter if it’s theirs or the absent employee on the one hand. However, on the other hand, they might have their own quotas that need attention, and they reason that if the workload gets split up evenly – everybody doing their part – the impact on everyone overall is minimized and shared.

Some readers are already moving to what they perceive the view of management will be. You know, seeing supervisors and bosses as not caring really who they’ve got on their teams as long as the work gets done, quotas are met, targets achieved and profits maximized. The parts are interchangeable; and you and I in their opinion are the interchangeable parts to be discarded when it suits. With a long line of people willing to take your place and mine, they just don’t care the way they used to.

Maybe that has been your experience and if so, it’s shaped the way you view the world and the people in it. You’ve possibly become jaded yourself in how you view things and how you view others.

If you’ve had bosses that not only expect results but truly care about the workers achieving those results, you see things differently. Why I’ve had bosses who roll up their sleeves and pitch in from time-to-time when and as needed. It’s kept them in touch with the front lines, gained respect among staff and has never been a sign of their lack of supervision and leadership to do so.

You know what prompted this topic for today? You guessed it! An absent co-worker. Actually, you’re only part right. There’s not just one, but 4 co-workers on my team away today and only one was scheduled off. So three unexpected absences. Yikes! Thankfully our team is made up of contributors, problem-solvers. In addition, three staff on other teams voluntary contributed time to cover short breaks and lunch.

So how do you react to absent co-workers?

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