Job consolidation can be the best option for a company when budgets are tight, or a major change is on the horizon.
But it can be a challenge for managers and teams to pick up the slack.
Here’s what you need to know about redistributing a departing employee’s work, including:
- How to talk about it
- How to get the work done
- How to keep your team engaged
Prepare to share the news with your team
Managers should share news of job consolidation with their team face to face whenever possible, whether that’s an in-person meeting or a video conference.
Before your meeting, do your homework so you can break the news, set expectations and reassure your team about the changes in progress.
Review some change management principles
When sharing news about a position that’s going away, make sure your team knows why it’s happening and aim to reduce their anxiety about the change.
When employees don’t understand why a change is happening – or when they worry it’s just the start of bigger changes that might affect their employment – they may unconsciously resist the changes and slow down their work.
Speak to your team the way you normally do, to avoid creating doubt in their minds about what you’re saying.
(If you don’t agree with the decision to leave the role open, plan to communicate the news without undermining leadership.)
Explain exactly what tasks your team will need to pick up and for how long, if you know. If you don’t know, be clear about that, too.
Explain why the role is going unfilled
This is important to keep your team from worrying and speculating about what’s going on within the company.
- Is demand down, so you no longer need to fill that role?
- Is the company putting hiring on hold while it plans changes?
- Is the role unfilled because it’s a specialist position that can take months to fill? If so, be as clear as you can about how long the position may be open.
Reassign tasks strategically
While it might seem fairest to divide up the extra work evenly among team members, it may not be the most equitable or efficient approach. Here are some alternatives to consider.
Break the employee workload into specialized categories
This approach works well when the person who left was responsible for several different tasks and your remaining team members aren’t equally proficient in all of them.
For example, what if you’re redistributing the work of a call center employee who was responsible for five different products, but none of the other team members are experts in all five?
Rather than try to get the rest of the team up to speed on all five, distribute the work across several team members who have expertise in different products.
Assign work based on your team members’ strengths
You can also redistribute the workload based on who has the easiest time completing certain tasks.
For example, what if your departing employee was responsible for developing, producing and publishing the entire social media calendar for a client?
Instead of turning the entire project over to one team member, you could assign that client’s topic development, content production and publishing to different people who are best at tackling those individual tasks quickly and effectively.
This approach avoids making one employee feel overburdened. It can also ensure that the extra work gets done well – and fast.
Consider the ideal span of control for each team member
However you decide to parcel out the departing employee’s work, think about how much your remaining people can take on before you make any firm decisions.
For example, nurse managers can have 60 to 100 nurses reporting to them. If you need to reassign the workload of one nurse manager to others in your group, it will probably make more sense to divide that position’s responsibilities among two or more other nurse managers.
What if your team’s work is project based? You can evaluate each team member’s span of control by considering:
- How many projects do they usually work on?
- How complex is each project?
- Do their projects typically involve just one or two business units or are they enterprise wide?
- How much complex decision-making goes into each project?
The goal of each of these strategies is to avoid creating new learning curves for your remaining team members whenever possible, to keep the overall stress level down.
Identify sources of support for your team
Sometimes a learning curve is unavoidable as your team takes on the work of a member who won’t be replaced. In those cases, look for resources your people can use to get up to speed quickly, such as:
- Onboarding documents and tools for the vacant role.
- Established and documented processes for executing tasks in this role.
- People in other roles that closely interacted with the vacant role.
Remember that as a leader, you’re a major source of support for your people. Try to stay in tune with their needs as people adjust to new tasks.
Telling your team to let you know when they need help goes a long way to making the changes feel less challenging.
Recognize and reward your team for stepping up
Be sure to let your team know that you see and appreciate their extra effort. Depending on your company culture, your budget and what motivates your team, that appreciation might take the form of:
- Sharing great team metrics with the group, to show them how they’re doing. Be sure to adjust your expectations for metrics because of the workload changes.
- Treating the team to lunch or coffee more often, perhaps twice as often as usual.
- Paying bonus compensation.
- Providing an extra hour for lunch on some days.
- Offering more opportunities to work remotely.
When you communicate clearly with your team, reassign work strategically, offer support and recognize their efforts, job consolidation — the merging of a vacant position into your group’s responsibilities — can go smoothly.
For more ideas on getting the most from your team, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to employee engagement.