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?

My Performance Review Is Tomorrow

It’s true; my performance feedback session is tomorrow. In 2014 my employer no longer calls it a performance evaluation, but it is a formal process where my employer, represented by my Supervisor, sits down with me and we evaluate and talk about me.

I know in advance that we’ll be discussing what my goals are for the upcoming year, and how in turn my Supervisor can help me reach those goals. My goals this year I think are going to be relatively uninspiring. I mean I’m not out to compete for a promotion, and being in a union I can’t dictate my own salary. It becomes then issues like training opportunities that might fall in line with my longer term objectives or my current role. Perhaps some leadership role within the team I’m currently on or maybe development of a new program or workshop.

I’ll be honest with all of you who regularly read my blog. I don’t enjoy these meetings at all. Situations in our past often affect our present lives, even when we think we’ve dealt with any lingering issues. A poor Supervisor who took the yearly evaluation of his employees as his opportunity to assert his own authority at the expense of his employees ego’s damaged me in this regard I’m afraid, and I’ve never quite been able to rid myself entirely of the anxiety that comes with the meeting with the boss. And for the record my boss is fabulous at present.

So I’ve signed up to renew my CPR and First Aid courses, and the AED (Artificial Defibrillator) course. That knowledge puts me in a position to help my clients and co-workers if they have a medical emergency. I hope to get approved for that. And another objective of my own is to update the resource booklets that my team distributes and references in several of our workshops. I’ve written many of them to start with, and I know not all my team members are all that interested in taking the time to write and edit these, getting feedback from the rest of us.

Doesn’t sound like a lofty plan for 365 days does it? There’s not accession plan for leaving the company, or promotion plan because I don’t want to aspire to be a Supervisor. “Content” is a word that can be either good or bad, but in my case, I love what I do, and in this respect I am content to continue doing it well, and finding ways to improve my performance and learn about myself on a day-to-day basis.

How do you feel about your performance reviews? Do they call them this or something else where you work? If it really is using some kind of a grading scale, do you fret over your grade and compare it to your peers after or do you keep that information private? And if you are in the private sector, is it tied to your yearly income and benefits?

The one thing I do appreciate about my Supervisor is that she provides feedback throughout the year, and if there is an issue to discuss, she does it as it comes up, not saving all the good or bad for this one meeting. That way, the ‘surprise factor’ is removed. Nothing should really come up that I’m not already aware of. So why is it I still feel vulnerable heading into tomorrow?

I’m being honest in sharing these feelings and insecurities with my readership because the relationship you and I have or the one we are developing if you are a new reader, is one I value. Pretty poor if I were always handing out my advice to other people and seemingly never having any issues of my own when I really do. And this evaluation meeting is my nemesis. It’s more in my mind now than it is a poor experience in reality. Psychologically damaged when it comes to the yearly chit-chat? Probably so. I’d be wise to just, ‘let it go’ says my wife. And she’s right of course because the problem every year is now mine and mine alone.

At 54 years of age, I’ve got 11 – 13 more of these annual meetings to undergo. That actually doesn’t sound too bad. Hadn’t thought of it that way. 13 is my favourite number; I was born on the 13th day.

Interesting thing where I work is that we evaluate ourselves to some degree, and the Supervisor does the same, and then it gets discussed, then written up, then I get a chance to comment on it in writing and a copy goes to me and one to my file. If I were job hunting, I’d get those out and use them strategically to bolster my chances as they are usually very good if truth be told. Do you keep a file folder somewhere in your home where you keep these or do you toss them out right after the meeting as some people have been known to do?

One thing you should do I believe is put any goals somewhere visible at your workplace. Check it out often and see if you are on track to meet your goals. If you are great, and if you aren’t, ask your Supervisor for help in realizing those goals or let them know you’ve altered your plans.

Ah wish me well tomorrow…I’ve really got to reframe my thinking about this process. It would be the healthy thing to do!

How Fast Is Fast-Paced?

Oh my goodness there are a lot of job postings out there that all seem to want workers who can work at a fast pace. I often wonder though if they all want workers who work at a fast pace, doesn’t fast become the new norm? I mean, wouldn’t you have to see postings requiring people to work at a slow or average pace in order for others to be fast?

Suppose you told an employer your last job required you to work at a fast pace but when you started a new job, the new employer wondered about your ability to work fast. Could fast at one job be not fast enough at another? So what exactly is fast anyhow?

That’s a question that no one can answer except the employer who is represented by the interviewer; and it’s a question you might want to consider asking at the actually interview itself. However, in the actual asking of the question, be sure to communicate that you are inquiring simply to know what the standard of required speed is that you will be measured against. Perhaps in your new job you and your team have to churn out 175 items on an assembly line every hour. If you realize after the first hour on the job that you’ve only produced 135, you’ve got to increase your overall speed, and that should come with familiarity of your responsibilities and your learning curve.

How though do you measure your speed if you are in a job without clearly defined targets? How exactly would your speed be measured? Of course speed is one thing, accuracy another. In that previous example from the last paragraph, suppose you upped your production to 175 units produced in an hour, but 69 of them had defects, imperfections or required adjustments. Just because you worked at a fast pace in that instance wouldn’t be productive for the company as they would have wasted products and you’d actually be costing the company money to re-make or repair your items produced.

One thing to clarify when you are at the early stage of employment is to determine what the expectations are for new hires vs. longer term employees. And additionally, what is the expected learning curve, the rate of improved production and accuracy you should be meeting, and what if anything is attached to your performance. In other words, if you aren’t meeting targets by a certain date, is your job in jeopardy or if you exceed or meet those targets, are there performance bonuses or raises? Or is the expectation that you meet those targets and your wage is not affected at all, because after all, you agreed to perform the job for a set hourly or annual wage.

I knew a fellow once who for a time, managed to appear to be very busy all the time at work. Whenever he walked around, he moved quickly and took slightly longer strides. People saw him a determined, moving with purpose, and assumed he was always doing something important and was highly productive. However, what came to light was that it was really an illusion and he had accomplished no more than anyone else at the end of a day. He just walked differently. When someone was approaching him, it was always them who moved to one side because he seemed in a hurry, doing something important, going somewhere.

So there’s a good question for you to pose to an interviewer about the expected rate of productivity you should both be expected to be at in the early days of work, and after a few months. However, one piece of advice is to avoid the word, “minimum”; as in “Could you tell me what is the minimum expectation you would have for me in the early days of working here?” That sounds an awful lot like you are aiming as high as the worst employer. Now on the other hand if you said, “Could you tell me what expectations you have for the most productive employee doing what I’ll be doing?”, you’d be setting yourself up to be among the best the company has. Employers would appreciate your zeal and high personal standards.